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

Saturday, April 10, 2021

week ending Apr 10

FOMC Minutes: "The path of the federal funds rate and the balance sheet depend on actual progress" - From the Fed: Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee, March 16-17, 2021. A few excerpts:In their discussion of current conditions, participants noted that the COVID-19 pandemic was causing tremendous human and economic hardship across the United States and around the world. Following a moderation in the pace of the recovery, indicators of economic activity and employment had turned up recently, although the sectors most adversely affected by the pandemic remained weak. Inflation continued to run below 2 percent. Overall financial conditions remained accommodative, in part reflecting policy measures to support the economy and the flow of credit to U.S. households and businesses. Participants noted that the path of the economy would depend significantly on the course of the virus, including progress on vaccinations, and that the ongoing public health crisis would continue to weigh on economic activity, employment, and inflation and posed considerable risks to the economic outlook....Participants judged that the Committee's current guidance for the federal funds rate and asset purchases was serving the economy well. They noted that a benefit of the outcome-based guidance was that it did not need to be recalibrated often in response to incoming data or the evolving outlook. Participants also noted the importance of communicating to the public that the existing guidance, together with the new monetary policy framework as delineated in the revised Statement on Longer-Run Goals and Monetary Policy Strategy, meant that the path of the federal funds rate and the balance sheet depend on actual progress toward reaching the Committee's maximum-employment and inflation goals. In particular, various participants noted that changes in the path of policy should be based primarily on observed outcomes rather than forecasts.Participants agreed that overall financial conditions were accommodative. They noted that the Federal Reserve's asset purchases since last March had materially eased financial conditions and were providing substantial support to the economy. Participants noted that it would likely be some time until substantial further progress toward the Committee's maximum-employment and price-stability goals would be realized and that, consistent with the Committee's outcome-based guidance, asset purchases would continue at least at the current pace until then.

 Powell: Fed wants to see 'string of months' of 1 million job gains -- Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Thursday that the Fed would be encouraged if the economy extends the 1 million-a-month pace of job gains seen in March. Last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the economy added 916,000 non-farm payrolls in March, the fastest pace of growth since August. The surge in job gains comes alongside a national vaccine rollout, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 171 million Americans have received at least one dose. The central bank chief said charging ahead on vaccines is key to supporting more job creation as the re-openings continue. “We want to see a string of months like that so we can really begin to show progress toward our goals,” Powell said at an International Monetary Fund event Thursday. Powell’s use of the word “progress” offers a small new detail on how the central bank is thinking about its asset purchase program. In an effort to alleviate pressures in financial markets last year, the Fed has absorbed trillions in mortgage-backed securities and U.S. Treasuries since the depths of the pandemic. The Fed is still snatching up $120 billion a month in assets, promising to continue the aggressive support until “substantial further progress” is made toward the Fed’s goals on maximum employment and price stability. By linking “progress” to a “string of months” like the March jobs report, Powell is suggesting that the Fed will not pull back on its asset purchases unless it sees multiple months of large job creation.“We just need to keep reminding ourselves that even though some parts of the economy are starting just great, there’s a very large group of people who are not,” Powell said. The remark also reveals the central bank’s greater attention to the labor market over inflationary pressures, where Powell did not express concern over rising inflation. The Fed chief noted Thursday that bottlenecks in global supply chains may lead to temporary price increases, but not “materially” in a way that would push the central bank to have to raise interest rates.  Minutes from the Fed’s March policy-setting meeting similarly described inflationary pressures as likely to be “transitory,” whereas the labor market were “well below levels consistent with maximum employment.” IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva, who appeared on the panel alongside Powell, encouraged central bankers around the world to be patient on pulling easy money policies while the global vaccination rollout attempts to suppress the virus.“Only then, Chair Powell can think seriously about an exit strategy, which of course matters tremendously for the United States [and] matters for the rest of the world,” Georgieva said.

 Biden, touting Fed independence, yet to speak with Powell - President Biden said he hasn’t spoken with Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell since taking office more than two months ago, citing respect for the central bank’s independence and marking a sharp turn from his predecessor, Donald Trump. “The Federal Reserve is an independent operation and, starting off my presidency, I want to be real clear that I’m not going to do the kinds of things that have been done in the last administration,” Biden said on Tuesday in response to a question. “I’ve been very fastidious about not talking to them, but I do talk to the secretary of the Treasury,” Janet Yellen, he said. Jerome Powell. Aaron P. Bernstein/BloombergTrump repeatedly applied pressure on Powell and the Fed via Twitter, drawing rebukes from around the world for interfering with the world’s most powerful monetary authority. From 2018 through 2020, Trump attacked Powell for raising rates too fast or not juicing the economy enough to accommodate his trade war with China. In December 2018, he considered firing the Fed chair, an unprecedented move that would have risked roiling markets and compromising the central bank’s independence. Powell’s four-year term as Fed board chair comes due in February 2022, and Biden will have to decide whether to reappoint him or nominate someone else later this year. Powell was appointed to the board by President Barack Obama and later elevated to chair by Trump. Powell has signaled interest in continuing on as Fed chair, but a decision on Powell’s fate probably isn’t imminent. Trump didn’t name Powell until November 2017 for a stint that started February the following year. Other Fed chiefs have been announced a few months earlier.

Fed policymakers see risk from infections, not inflation (Reuters) -The U.S. Federal Reserve plans to keep its super-easy policy in place even as data shows the economy kicking into higher gear, with policymakers predicting on Thursday that an expected increase in prices this year will fade on its own, and warning about the recent uptick in COVID-19 infections. “Cases are moving back up here, so I would just urge that people do get vaccinated and continue socially distancing,” Fed Chair Jerome Powell, who has had his shots, said at an economic forum during virtual International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings. “We don’t want to get another outbreak; even if it might have less economic damage and kill fewer people, it’ll slow down the recovery.” Speaking at a separate event, St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank President James Bullard said the Fed should not even discuss changes in monetary policy until it is clear the pandemic is over, tying future Fed discussions tightly to the success of the vaccination effort. The Fed has said it will keep buying $120 billion in bonds a month until it sees “substantial further progress” toward meeting the central bank’s employment and inflation goals. Bullard said he regards that as contingent on beating the coronavirus. “We have to get the pandemic behind us first,” he said. “There are still risks, and things could go in a different direction.” The Fed has long said the virus, which touched off the sharpest downturn in decades just over a year ago, will determine the course of the recovery. Some 3 million Americans are getting vaccinated every day, and a majority of older Americans at highest risk of dying from COVID-10 have been fully vaccinated. That, along with last month’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package and the Fed’s near-zero interest rates, sets the economy up for what Fed officials expect to be the fastest growth in 40 years this year. But new variants of the virus are driving surges in caseloads in swaths of the Midwest and Northeast particularly. Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari told the Economic Club of New York in yet another virtual event on Thursday that those variants, and the school and daycare center closures they could force, are the “biggest risks” to the U.S. recovery. Meanwhile, much of the world has barely begun mass vaccinations, posing what policymakers said was another risk.

Q1 GDP Forecasts: Around 7% --Note that the forecasts of the automated systems (based on released data) are lower than the forecasts of economists. Economists are expecting March to be very strong.  From Merrrill Lynch: We continue to track 7.0% for 1Q GDP growth. [Apr 9 estimate] From Goldman Sachs: We left our Q1 GDP tracking estimate unchanged at +7.5% (qoq ar). [Apr 9 estimate]  From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report:The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 6.0% for 2021:Q1 and 1.5% for 2021:Q2. [Apr 9 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 6.0 percent on April 9, down from 6.2 percent on April 7. [Apr 9 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 (Light Blue), 2020 (Blue) and 2021 (Red).  This data is as of April 4th. The seven day average is down 37.7% from the same week in 2019 (62.3% 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 April 3, 2021. This data is "a sample of restaurants on the OpenTable network across all channels: online reservations, phone reservations, and walk-ins. Note that this data is for "only the restaurants that have chosen to reopen in a given market". Since some restaurants have not reopened, the actual year-over-year decline is worse than shown. This data shows domestic box office for each week and the median for the years 2016 through 2019 (dashed light blue). Blue is 2020 and Red is 2021. The data is from BoxOfficeMojo through Apr 2nd. Movie ticket sales were at $40 million last week, down about 78% from the median for the week. 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). Even when occupancy increases to 2009 levels, hotels will still be hurting. This data is through March 27th. Hotel occupancy is currently down 16.7% compared to same week in 2019). Note: Occupancy was up year-over-year, since occupancy declined sharply at the onset of the pandemic. However, occupancy is still down significantly from normal levels. 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. Red is for 2021. As of March 26th, gasoline supplied was off about 2.6% (about 974.4% of the same week in 2019). Gasoline supplied was up year-over-year, since at one point, gasoline supplied was off almost 50% YoY in 2020. 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 April 3rd 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 63% of the January 2020 level. It is at 59% in Chicago, and 58% in Houston (the Houston dip was a weather related decline) - and moving up recently.  Here is some interesting data on New York subway usage .. This graph is from Todd W Schneider. This is weekly data since 2015. Most weeks are between 30 and 35 million entries, and currently there close to 10 million subway turnstile entries per week.  This data is through Friday, April 2nd.  Schneider has graphs for each borough, and links to all the data sources.

President Joe Biden's 1st budget seeks more money for education, defense, climate efforts -   (UPI) -- President Joe Biden submitted his first budget request to Congress on Friday, in which he's proposing a 16% increase in domestic spending and asking for less defense spending than former President Donald Trump did.In the 58-page $1.52 trillion budget request for 2022, more money would go toward domestic programs to reduce poverty, strengthen environmental protection and aid public education.The proposal includes a 1.5% increase in the amount last approved by Congress, but it asks for an amount lower ($715 billion) than Trump did ($722 billion) in his final budget request last year.Biden's proposed defense spending, compared to increases under Trump in recent years, is expected to draw criticism from congressional Republicans as insufficient and progressive Democrats as excessive. Some in the president's party have called for up to a 10% cut in Pentagon funding.The federal government will need a new funding agreement before federal money runs out at the end of September. Typically, Congress considers the president's budget request when drawing up new budget resolutions, but they are not binding. The government's 2022 fiscal year begins Oct. 1.The budget request comes as Biden also seeks trillions of dollars in new infrastructure spending. The president outlined his $2 trillion infrastructure plan last week, declaring it a "big" and "bold" proposal that's essential to the economic future of the United StatesBiden's administration has said the lack of cooperation from Trumpand his departments during the transition created delays in generating a formal budget request. A complete budget outline that includes tax proposals and spending for programs like Social Security will be released later this spring. Other details of Biden's budget request:

  • A $20 billion increase in funding for Title 1 schools, which would be the largest since the program was created by President Lyndon Johnson. Title 1 schools are those in which children from low-income families make up at least 40% of enrollment.
  • An additional $14 billion in climate change mitigation funding for almost all federal agencies.
  • A $2 billion increase for the Environmental Protection Agency, which saw decreases in funding during Trump's presidency.
  • A total of $1.2 billion for border security technology, but no money for border wall construction.

Civilian agencies would see a 16% spending boost under Biden’s 2022 budget  -Federal civilian agencies are the big winners in President Joe Biden’s 2022 budget request, which administration officials previewed Friday. The president’s 2022 budget request calls for $769 billion in non-defense discretionary spending, a 16% increase over 2021 levels, and $753 billion for defense programs. Defense programs will see a modest 1.7% spending bump in 2022, which administration officials said would largely cover pay increases for military members and the civilian employees who support them. The administration didn’t specify what the 2022 pay increase would be. Biden is considering a 2.7% federal pay raise for civilian employees, which Federal News Network first reported last week. “For the past decade, due to overly restrictive budget caps, our country has under-invested in core public services, benefits and protections that are incredibly important to our success,” an administration official told reporters Friday. “Since 2010, non-defense discretionary has shrunk significantly as a share of the U.S. economy.” “This administration believes now is the time to begin reversing this trend and reinvesting in the foundations of our country’s strength.” Friday’s release is only a preview of the Biden administration’s 2022 budget request. It will release the full 2022 proposal in the “months ahead,” administration officials said. “This is something we hope will start a conversation about the right size of non-defense discretionary [spending],” the official said. “You’ve seen budget deals happen every two years during the Budget Control Act because there was a bipartisan awareness that we were not investing the right amounts into those programs. However, we were still very limited in what we could invest and this budget is intended to right the shop, so to say, in a lot of areas that both parties have shown historic interest in.”

Biden’s National Security Budget Takes Aim at Trump’s Legacy  --THE NATIONAL SECURITY cornerstones of the federal budget that President Joe Biden proposed on Friday appear carefully crafted to try to sidestep controversy, but also bear what has become a signature hallmark of his administration's policies: The systematic reversal of Donald Trump's legacy. The budget request, which the White House released early Friday afternoon, includes no dramatic changes to military spending in requesting $715 billion, roughly comparable to current levels when accounting for inflation. It also eliminates the Overseas Contingency Operations or OCO fund – a loosely regulated war budget that has increasingly become a de facto Pentagon "slush fund," and which the last two presidents have failed to eliminate. Maintaining defense spending ignores heated rhetoric in recent weeks from hawkish Republicans and progressive Democrats on the Hill in recent weeks who called for dramatic changes to the Defense Department's bottom line.Instead, some of the largest changes in the foreign-facing elements of Biden's proposed budgets lie in funding for the State Department and USAID – agencies that historically receive a fraction of the budgets dedicated to the military, and which Trump and his first secretary of state hollowed out in the first months of his presidency. "Following four years of presidential budget proposals that threatened the lives and livelihoods of the world's most vulnerable, this framework from the Biden administration sends a hopeful signal to the world that America is back," says Tom Hart, acting CEO of The ONE Campaign, an international non-profit group that focuses on combating extreme poverty and preventable diseases. The $63.5 billion in international programs represents a $6.8 billion or 12 percent increase from the levels enacted by Congress in 2021. The budget also calls for fully funding America's contributions to U.N. peacekeeping with roughly $500 million more – another expenditure Trump slashed – in an attempt to address "chronic underfunding of these critical programs by the previous administration," according to language in the request. Among the priorities the administration hopes to address with this new spending are planning for future pandemics, reversing climate change, boosting aid to Central America – the source of the current migrant crisis at the Southern border, according to military leaders – aid to refugees and other displaced people, countering authoritarian trends around the world and working toward greater Middle East peace.The budget also fulfills Biden's campaign pledge to halt one of the most controversial aspects of Trump's security policies: the border wall. The budget includes $1.2 billion for border infrastructure and security, but no money for the border wall. Biden halted construction on the wall early in his presidency and the budget request proposes the cancellation of prior-year balances that are unfulfilled by the end of the year.

Biden budget calls for record military spending, nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles -  Amid mounting tensions with both Russia and China, the Biden administration has requested the largest military budget in US history, demanding $753 billion, or more than the next 10 biggest militaries combined, in annual military spending.The budget calls for additional spending on nuclear weapons, the upgrading of the country’s nuclear-capable ballistic submarine fleet, and the development of a whole new range of long-range weapons that military planners say are necessary for the US to fight a major war with Russia or China.The budget exposes the hollow promises of the “progressive” wing of the Democratic party, including Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who claimed that a Biden presidency would be a departure from the militarism and warmongering of former president Donald Trump.  Instead, just months into his presidency, the Biden administration has poured gasoline on global flashpoints, creating the greatest period of tensions between the United States and Russia since the 2014 annexation of Crimea, and with China since the 1970s.Following an announcement by the US proxy regime in Ukraine last month of a plan to militarily retake Crimea from Russia, relations between Washington and Moscow have been on a hair trigger. On Friday, the United States announced plans to deploy warships to the Black Sea, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has warned about the eruption of a “full-scale” war.At the same time, the Biden administration has moved to deploy offensive weapons on the islands surrounding China and is discussing a military alliance with Taiwan, creating a standoff in both the strait of Taiwan and the South China Sea. Biden’s budget proposal continues and accelerates the multi-trillion-dollar nuclear buildup initiated under Obama and continued under Trump, featuring the development of smaller, more “usable” nuclear weapons and nuclear-capable cruise missiles. The text of the budget request says it will maintain “a strong, credible nuclear deterrent for the security of the Nation and U.S. allies,” adding that “the discretionary request supports ongoing nuclear modernization programs.”The budget proposal firmly targets China and Russia, declaring, that it “prioritizes the need to counter the threat from China as the Department’s top challenge. The Department would also seek to deter destabilizing behavior by Russia.”In order to carry this out, the budget explicitly endorses the so-called “Pacific Deterrence Initiative,” which aims to ring China with offensive, land-based missiles previously banned under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.“Leveraging the Pacific Deterrence Initiative and working together with allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, DOD would ensure that the United States builds the concepts, capabilities, and posture necessary to meet these challenges.”In addition to the development of new forms of previously-banned offensive weapons, the budget prioritizes the development of “hypersonic strike capabilities” capable of evading defenses to deliver nuclear payloads.

Biden's budget meets criticism from right and left on Pentagon spending (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden asked Congress to sharply hike spending on climate change, cancer and underperforming schools, but his first budget wishlist on Friday drew howls of bipartisan concern over military spending. The $1.5 trillion budget, reflecting an 8% increase in base funding from this year, marks a sharp contrast with the goals of Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump. It would spread billions of dollars more across areas ranging from public transit, poor schools, toxic site clean-ups, foreign aid and background checks on gun sales, but spend nothing on border walls. The budget “makes things fairer,” said Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Yet the proposal was greeted by bipartisan scorn over its suggested funding for the Department of Defense, roughly even on an inflation-adjusted basis at $715 billion. The administration also cut an “Overseas Contingency Operations” account that even government bureaucrats said had come to serve as a slush fund for extra military spending. Biden’s request displeased both liberals hoping to impose cuts and hawks who want military spending to increase to deal with threats from China, Russia, Iran and North Korea - a reminder of the uphill battle Biden faces in delivering the policies he promised as a candidate beyond the COVID-19 emergency.Five top Senate Republicans including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a joint statement warning that the Biden plan sent “a terrible message” to U.S. allies and adversaries and called into question the administration’s willingness to confront China. “We can’t afford to fail in our constitutional responsibility to provide for the common defense,” wrote lawmakers including top Republicans on critical Senate committees involved in the budget-making process.

Biden budget would beef up IRS tax enforcement -Yellen -(Reuters) -U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Friday that the Internal Revenue Service budget would increase by $1.2 billion or 10.4% under President Joe Biden’s fiscal 2022 budget request. Yellen, in a statement, said the $13.2 billion overall IRS budget would include an additional $900 million for tax enforcement in fiscal 2022. The Treasury is seeking to increase revenues by shrinking the “tax gap,” the difference between taxes legally owed and those collected. IRS officials have said that more than a decade of reduced or stagnant budgets have left the agency with 15,000 fewer revenue agents than it had in 2010, forcing it to reduce the number of audits it conducts and leaving significant tax fraud undetected. Yellen said the budget request will increase fairness in the tax system. “It will make paying taxes a more seamless process for millions of Americans. And it makes sure that corporations actually pay what they owe,” she said in a statement. The proposed Biden budget for fiscal 2022, which starts on Oct. 1, includes a request for $330 million to support Community Development Financial Institutions, which serve low-income and minority areas, an increase of 22.2% over the fiscal 2021 normal appropriation. The amount would build on a $12 billion injection into CDFIs and minority-owned banks that was approved as a part of the 2020 year-end coronavirus rescue legislation. The Treasury also is requesting a $64 million increase for the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which combats money laundering and polices financial reporting, bringing the fiscal 2022 total for the agency to $191 million.

The case for expropriation: Billionaires’ wealth surged 60 percent in first year of pandemic - The collective wealth of the world’s billionaires exploded by more than 60 percent last year, from $8 trillion to $13.1 trillion, according to Forbes magazine’s annual list of global billionaires, released on Tuesday. “COVID-19 brought terrible suffering, economic pain, geopolitical tension—and the greatest acceleration of wealth in human history,” Forbes writes. The number of billionaires in the world grew by 660 to 2,775, the biggest total number and the largest annual increase ever. A new billionaire was minted every 17 hours. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Tesla CEO Elon Musk lead the pack with $177 billion and $151 billion, respectively. They are followed by Bernard Arnault and family ($150 billion), who control the French luxury goods company LVMH, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates ($124 billion) and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg ($97 billion). Press reports discuss how Zuckerberg “earned” $50 billion and Elon Musk “earned” $130 billion last year. But the very term is an absurdity. One cannot “earn” a figure equivalent to the gross domestic product of a mid-size country. This wealth is socially appropriated. First, through the exploitation of the working class in the process of production. Second, and no less important, the wealth is appropriated as the result of state policy, designed to ensure the perpetual rise of the stock market through a combination of monetary stimulus from the Federal Reserve and the provision of an endless supply of cheap labor for exploitation. As a result, the S&P 500 stock index has nearly doubled since its low in March 2020. Amid a raging pandemic, every country in Europe and the Americas has refused to shut down nonessential production, claiming the cost would be too high. This policy, which has led to the deaths of over three million people, has the deliberate aim of expanding the wealth of the financial oligarchy. With each death, an average of $1.7 million was added to the net worth of the billionaires. Hundreds of millions of people around the world got sick on the job or were thrown out of work. Hundreds of millions went hungry. But the stock portfolios of the wealthy soared to ever greater heights. The piling up of immense sums at the top of society is made possible by the immiseration of the working class and poor.

Infrastructure: GOP Sen. Roy Blunt calls on Biden to slash plan to $615 billion - Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri on Sunday urged the Biden administration to cut its $2 trillion infrastructure plan to roughly $615 billion and focus on rebuilding physical infrastructure like roads and bridges. In an interview with Fox News Sunday, Blunt – the fourth-ranking Republican in the Senate – argued that only 30% of the president's proposal focuses on traditional infrastructure and said reducing the price would allow the White House to pass the bill through both chambers of Congress. "I think there's an easy win here for the White House if they would take that win, which is make this an infrastructure package, which is about 30% — even if you stretch the definition of infrastructure some — it's about 30% of the $2.25 trillion we are talking about spending," Blunt said. "If we'd go back and look at roads and bridges and ports and airports, and maybe even underground water systems and broadband, you'd still be talking about less than 30% of this entire package," he added. "I think 30% is about 615 or so billion dollars," Blunt said. "I think you can do that and with some innovative things like looking at how we're going to deal with the electric vehicle use of the highway system, what we can do with public-private partnerships." The top Republican's remarks follow Biden's introduction of the infrastructure package last week, which focuses on rebuilding roads, bridges and airports, expanding broadband access and fighting climate change through boosting electric vehicle use and updating the country's electric grid. The proposal also includes increasing the corporate tax rate to 28% to offset spending. Biden has said that he wants bipartisan support for the plan, but the chances are slim. Republicans have staunchly opposed any tax hikes, arguing they could hinder economic recovery. Republicans have also criticized the package for including initiatives that extend beyond traditional infrastructure issues. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said last week that the $2 trillion package would not receive Republican support and vowed to oppose the broader Democratic agenda. "I'm going to fight them every step of the way, because I think this is the wrong prescription for America," McConnell said at a news conference on Thursday. Democrats would need to use the budget reconciliation process to pass the bill on their own unless the White House changes the proposal to satisfy Republicans or 10 Senate Republicans break with McConnell.

Buttigieg on Biden's infrastructure plan: Americans 'want to see us get it done' -  Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said Sunday that he believes it could be possible to get Republicans on board with President Joe Biden's massive, $2 trillion infrastructure bill that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has already said he plans to fight "every step of the way." "I'm having a lot of conversations with Republicans in the House and Senate, who have been wanting to do something big on infrastructure for years. We may not agree about every piece of it, but this is one area where the American people absolutely want to see us get it done," Buttigieg told ABC's "This Week" anchor George Stephanopoulos. "In my view, this is a once-in-a-lifetime moment. I don't think in the next 50 years, we're going to see another time when we have this combination of a demonstrated need, bipartisan interest, widespread impatience and a very supportive president who is committed," Buttigieg added. But while Buttigieg said he was hopeful that bipartisan work on the bill was possible, he hinted that passing the measure along party lines was not out of the question. "One way or the other, we've got to get it done," he said. The president tasked Buttigieg and four other members of his Cabinet to take the lead on selling his infrastructure proposal to the American people and Congress. Dubbed the "American Jobs Plan" by the White House, it goes beyond traditional infrastructure projects of repairing roads, railways, bridges and ports, with Biden declaring it a "once-in-a-generation investment in America." The plan includes $621 billion in updates to modernize roads, rails, ports, airports, mass transit and highways, as well as $45 billion to eliminate 100% of lead pipes. It also includes $400 billion for community-based care for elderly Americans, a $180 billion investment in clean energy and $100 billion to build out high-speed broadband across the country, paid for in part by increasing the corporate tax rate lowered under former President Donald Trump to 21% up to 28%. The White House has previewed the proposal will be followed up by a second package in the coming weeks focused on "human infrastructure," with additional funding for schools, health care and childcare. Buttigieg said he was confident the administration would "find strong deal space" with Republicans and even some moderate Democrats, like Sen. Joe Manchin, who are opposed to raising the corporate tax rate to 28% to pay for the infrastructure package through pressure from the American public.

Barreling towards a broadband blunder | TheHill Since President Biden unveiled his $2 trillion “American Jobs Plan” last week, the debate in Washington has focused on an existential — or at least definitional — question. What is infrastructure? As many observers have pointed out, the lion’s share of the plan has nothing to do with infrastructure. One exception I would argue is the $100 billion it proposes for broadband. That clears the definitional hurdle. The problem is the plan itself. The Biden administration’s broadband plan tracks many of the ideas contained in the $94 billion “Internet for all” infrastructure bill that congressional Democrats introduced earlier this year. And that is not a good thing. At the outset, their efforts ignore the billions upon billions of dollars that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) already has in the pipeline for expanding Internet service. Just last year, the FCC committed $9.2 billion to support the buildout of high-speed service to millions of unserved families over the next ten years. At the same time, the agency budgeted up to $11.2 billion to extend broadband to even more Americans through a second phase of that initiative. Earlier this year, the FCC stood up a new $3.2 billion program to subsidize Internet service for low-income Americans. And just last month, Congress provided the FCC with an additional $7.1 billion to support Internet connections for students. The FCC will also distribute up to $9 billion over the next ten years to bring 5G to rural America plus an additional $1.9 billion for carriers to upgrade their insecure infrastructure. So how much of this funding has gone out the door? None. Not one penny from this $40 billion tranche has been spent.   Despite this, the Democrats’ proposal has made no effort to determine how far these existing funds will go or to tailor the size of their legislation to any needs that might remain. Measure never, cut checks often appears to be Washington’s new proverb. Price tag aside, the Democrats’ approach is plagued with substantive flaws that will only make it harder to close the digital divide. For one, it dedicates funds to upgrade communities that already have high-speed Internet services so that they can receive the superfast “future proof” connections of tomorrow. Overbuilding existing networks with taxpayer dollars does nothing to connect the millions of Americans that live in communities with no Internet service today. They should be our priority. For another, it bets on government-owned networks as the future of connectivity. Yet these projects routinely fail, leaving communities unconnected, promises broken, and taxpayers footing the bill. For yet another, it puts price controls squarely on the table. Rate regulation would be a surefire way to scare off the private sector investment needed to bridge the digital divide.

 Senate parliamentarian to let Democrats bypass GOP filibuster on two bills -- The Senate parliamentarian ruled Monday that Democrats can use special budgetary rules to avoid a GOP filibuster on two more pieces of legislation, setting the stage for President Biden's infrastructure agenda to pass in two packages with simple-majority votes. It's a win for Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) that allows him to pass Biden's $2.25 trillion package by revising the fiscal 2021 Budget Resolution. Schumer could pass a budget resolution for fiscal 2022 to do a third reconciliation package for the second half of the Biden infrastructure agenda. Or the fiscal 2021 budget could be revised a third time to set up a third reconciliation package. Top Schumer aides had argued to parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough last month that Section 304 of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 allows them to revise the budget resolution for fiscal 2021 to create additional reconciliation instructions, setting up pathways to pass two more bills this year with only a simple majority in the 50-50 Senate. "The Parliamentarian has advised that a revised budget resolution may contain budget reconciliation instructions. This confirms the Leader's interpretation of the Budget Act and allows Democrats additional tools to improve the lives of Americans if Republican obstruction continues," a spokesperson for Schumer said in a statement Monday. "While no decisions have been made on a legislative path forward using Section 304 and some parameters still need to be worked out, the Parliamentarian's opinion is an important step forward that this key pathway is available to Democrats if needed." Democrats used the budget reconciliation process earlier this year to pass Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill without any GOP votes, instead of the 60 votes needed to advance legislation in the upper chamber. The new ruling will enable Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to break up Biden's infrastructure proposal into two legislative packages. The first portion, a $2.25 trillion measure unveiled by the White House last month, includes more traditional infrastructure priorities. The second part, planned for later in the year, will include more people-focused spending priorities favored by progressives, such as expanded child care, free community college, universal prekindergarten and more affordable housing. Both the Senate and House will need to pass another concurrent resolution to trigger an additional set of reconciliation instructions. Democratic aides say a second infrastructure package will be needed if Biden's $2.25 trillion proposal is scaled down in an effort to secure any Republican votes or lock down the support of Democratic centrists such as Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.).

Sinema defends filibuster: The 'solution is for senators to change their behavior' - Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) said it is senators' behavior, not Senate rules such as the filibuster, that must change in order to pass legislation through the upper chamber. “When you have a place that’s broken and not working, and many would say that’s the Senate today, I don’t think the solution is to erode the rules,” Sinema told The Wall Street Journal this week. “I think the solution is for senators to change their behavior and begin to work together, which is what the country wants us to do.” Sinema is one of two senators, along with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who have said they are opposed to nixing the legislative filibuster, a move Democrats have been eyeing as they seek to push bills on gun control and voting rights through a 50-50 chamber. A handful of other senators, including Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) say they aren't sold on eliminating the 60-vote threshold but are exploring the idea. Manchin, Sinema and Coons have become known in the Senate for bucking their Democratic colleagues on several issues. Recently, the three senators were among a group of Democrats who opposed a $15 minimum wage hike. Although Manchin has said he is willing to reform the filibuster, but not completely do away with it, Sinema has said she does not want to change the filibuster at all. “While eliminating the filibuster may result in some short-term legislative gains, it would deepen partisan divisions and sacrifice the long-term health of our government,” Sinema has previously said about the issue. President Biden has recently indicated a shift in his stance on the filibuster issue calling the 60-vote requirement a “relic of the Jim Crow-era.”

U.S. Senator Manchin, in threat to Biden agenda, opposes reconciliation, backs filibuster (Reuters) -U.S. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, a pivotal vote in the evenly divided Senate, said on Wednesday he was opposed to a process called reconciliation that makes it easier to pass bills without Republican support, a potential blow to President Joe Biden’s chances of passing a huge infrastructure measure. Manchin also said he would not support any step to weaken the ability of Republicans to mount filibusters to block legislation. Some Democrats want to toss aside the filibuster rule, which requires 60 votes in the 100-member chamber to approve most bills. “I simply do not believe budget reconciliation should replace regular order in the Senate,” Manchin said in an opinion piece in the Washington Post. “Senate Democrats must avoid the temptation to abandon our Republican colleagues on important national issues.” Democrats relied on the budget reconciliation process to avoid a possible Republican filibuster and pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill in March with a simple majority in the Senate. They have been considering doing the same with Biden’s proposed infrastructure package. “The filibuster is a critical tool to protecting that input and our democratic form of government. That is why I have said it before and will say it again to remove any shred of doubt: There is no circumstance in which I will vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster,” Manchin said. “Every time the Senate voted to weaken the filibuster in the past decade, the political dysfunction and gridlock have grown more severe,” Manchin wrote, saying it was time to end “political games” and return to a “new era of bipartisanship.” The centrist Democrat from West Virginia said last month he could see making filibusters more “painful” to carry out, although he was not in favor of eliminating them.

 Calls to establish a regionally adjusted federal minimum wage are dangerously misguided – EPI - We need to raise the federal minimum wage. Its deterioration in value over the past five decades hasexacerbated poverty, widened inequality, and lowered wages for the bottom third of wage earners1—despite the fact that these workers typically are older and have more education than their counterparts a generation ago. One misguided critique of the effort to raise the federal minimum to $15 in 2025 is that there is a need to establish a regionally adjusted federal minimum wage. In fact, federal minimum wage policy has always provided for tailored standards, by coupling a strong national wage floor with the ability for cities and states to adopt higher standards.  In 1968, when the federal minimum wage was lifted to its highest value in U.S. history and coverage of the law was vastly expanded, there were much larger differences in wage levels throughout the country. Yet, we now have empirical evidence that establishing this unprecedented, nationwide minimum wage did not have adverse employment impacts. Today, the wage levels of lower-wage states, primarily Southern ones, are much closer to overall national wage levels, so there is even less validity to claims that the federal minimum wage must be lowered to accommodate certain areas. Moreover, the ‘bite’ of a $15 minimum wage in 2025—i.e., the share of workers and businesses impacted, and the magnitude of resulting wage increases—will be well within the range of recent experiences of minimum wage increases in states and localities that studies have shown had little, if any, impact on employment. A $15 minimum wage in 2025 would be an appropriate and economically manageable level for the national wage floor. Data from EPI’s Family Budget Calculator—which compiles the typical costs of basic necessities throughout the country—show that by 2022, there is not a county in the U.S. where an individual working full time, year round could achieve a secure standard of living earning less than $15 per hour.  Moreover, $15 in 2025 is the equivalent of $13.79 in today’s dollars. Taking the federal minimum to this level would be an increase of about 30% above the 1968 peak, when the minimum wage was worth the equivalent of $10.59 in today’s dollars. Over the past 50 years, productivity—the value of goods and services produced from each hour of work in the economy—has more than doubled. The minimum wage should be set at a level that ensures all workers, including those in the lowest-paid jobs, benefit from the economy’s increased capacity to generate income—particularly when low-wage workers today tend to have higher levels of education than their counterparts in the 1960s. Setting regional thresholds is bad policy and would cement racial and gender wage disparities. The argument that it would be better to adapt the federal minimum wage to local conditions is described as avoiding a ‘one-size-fits-all’ policy imposed on states regardless of local conditions. That is a mischaracterization of federal policy, however, since there is wide variation in minimum wages across states and localities (where states permit) as subnational governments adopt higher standards. The purpose of federal law is to set a national floor which provides a living wage to all workers and brings wages in lower-wage states closer to those in higher-wage areas.

U.S. restores assistance for Palestinians, to provide $235 million in aid (Reuters) -The Biden administration announced on Wednesday it would provide $235 million in U.S. aid to the Palestinians, restarting funding for the United Nations agency supporting refugees and restoring other assistance cut off by then-President Donald Trump. The package, including humanitarian, economic and development assistance, was detailed by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken as part of an effort to repair American ties with the Palestinians that all but collapsed during Trump’s tenure. It marked Democratic President Joe Biden’s most significant move since taking office on Jan. 20 to make good on his promise to roll back some parts of his Republican predecessor’s approach that Palestinians denounced as heavily biased in favor of Israel. The plan calls for $150 million through the United Nations relief agency UNRWA, $75 million in U.S. economic and development assistance and $10 million for peace-building programs, Blinken said in a statement. Biden’s aides have also signaled that they want to re-establish the goal of a negotiated two-state solution as a priority in U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But any further major steps are likely to wait for the dust to clear after Israel’s inconclusive March election, which will be followed by Palestinian elections scheduled in coming months.

  Iran welcomes 'new chapter' in nuclear talks as U.S. seeks to heal 'profound differences' in Vienna - The United States and Iran will resume talks on Friday aimed at restoring trust and bridging what Washington calls "tremendous and profound differences" over how to salvage their failed nuclear agreement. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told a cabinet meeting in Tehran on Wednesday that initial talks with the U.S. and world powers in Vienna to rescue the deal were a "success" that opened a "new chapter" to save the agreement, according to a statement via his official website. Both countries described the indirect talks on Tuesday as a "useful step" and "constructive" despite neither representative actually meeting face-to-face. Officials chose instead to use European signatories to the deal to act as intermediaries. "We are not optimistic or pessimistic about the outcome of this meeting now, but we are confident that we are on the right track," said Ali Rabiei, an Iranian government spokesperson. "Surely the full implementation of this agreement will be finalized within the coming weeks," he added. Tehran is taking an "all or nothing" approach to the talks. It wants Washington to guarantee the full removal of Trump era sanctions in order to scale back its enrichment activity. The Iranian side is also pressured by time, with Presidential elections set to fall in June this year that will remove President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif from office. Washington, however, is seeking a "compliance for compliance" approach, with President Joe Biden ruling out any "unilateral gestures" but still open to exploring how the U.S. might also resume its own compliance with the deal. VIDEO02:16 U.S., Iran have a 'basic disconnect' in their approach to nuclear talks: Expert An early economic olive branch appears to have already failed, with Iran describing a proposal from the U.S. to release $1 billion of frozen oil money in exchange for Iran capping its uranium enrichment program as "ridiculous." "The first issue that these talks are going to have to resolve is the basic disconnect in approach," Kirsten Fontenrose at the Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative told CNBC's Hadley Gamble on Wednesday. "Until you square that circle, you can't get anywhere," she said.

  Martin Luther King’s America Redux: “The Greatest Purveyor of Violence in the World” -- In 2020, the planet was swept up in a devastating pandemic. Millions died, tens of millions suffered. It was a moment, in Reverend King’s spirit, that would have been ideal for imagining new global approaches to America’s ongoing wars of the past century. It would similarly have been the perfect moment to begin imagining global cooperative approaches to public health, growing debt and desperation, and intellectual property rights. This especially given that the Covid-19 vaccines had been patented for mega-profits and were available only to some on this suffering planet of ours, a world vulnerable to a common enemy in which the fault lines in any country threaten the safety of many others. Internationally, at the worst moment imaginable, U.S.-backed institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund continued to demand billions of dollars in debt payments from impoverished countries in the Global South, only forgiving them when their governments fell into step behind the U.S. and Europe, as Sudan has recently done. Moreover, Washington had a golden opportunity when the search for a Covid-19 vaccine threatened to change patent laws and force pharmaceutical companies to work with low-income nations. Instead, the U.S. government backed exclusive deals with Big Pharma, ensuring that vaccine apartheid would become rampant in this country, as well as across the rest of the world. By late March, 90% of the nearly 400 million vaccines delivered had gone to people in wealthy or middle-income countries, with vaccine equity within those countries being a concern as well. Another menacing development is the thematically anti-Chinese legislation being developed in Congress right now. Three weeks ago, just as the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) was nearly across the finish line, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was quietly laying the groundwork for another major legislative package focused on further inflaming a rising cold war with China. For Republicans, legislative action on China is in theory an absolute bullseye, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has already made it clear that his support for Schumer’s bill will only come if it includes a large increase — once again — in “defense” spending.An inhumane approach to foreign policy and especially wars in distant lands was only half of the spiritual death that Dr. King warned about back in 1967: the other half was how the militarization of this society and a distortion of its moral priorities had brought war and immiseration home. That was what he meant in his sermon when spoke about the “cruel manipulation of the poor.”

Air Force hypersonic missile test fails to launch from B-52 - The Air Force’s first flight test of the rocket booster for its prototype hypersonic missile failed Monday when the test weapon did not launch, the service said Tuesday. During the test flight over the Point Mugu Sea Range off the Southern California coast, a B-52H Stratofortress was supposed to launch the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon’s (ARRW) booster vehicle, but “the test missile was not able to complete its launch sequence,” the Air Force said in a news release. The test missile was still “safely” on the aircraft when it returned to Edwards Air Force Base, the release added. That means Air Force engineers and testers will be able to study the defect and attempt to test the missile again, the release said. “The ARRW program has been pushing boundaries since its inception and taking calculated risks to move this important capability forward,” Brig. Gen. Heath Collins, executive officer for the Air Force’s armament directorate program, said in a statement. “While not launching was disappointing, the recent test provided invaluable information to learn from and continue ahead. This is why we test.” Hypersonic speed is generally defined as more than five times the speed of sound. The Air Force has said the ARRW is expected to be able to fly at speeds roughly six and a half to eight times the speed of sound. The U.S. military has been working to develop hypersonic missiles as Russia and China make progress on their own hypersonic weapons.

Contaminated Military Bases 'Are No Place' for Kids, Advocates Warn as Biden Ramps up Detention Capacity -- In a move that was condemned by environmental justice advocates on Friday, President Joe Biden's administration earlier this week sent 500 unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors to Fort Bliss — a highly contaminated and potentially hazardous military base in El Paso, Texas — and is reportedly considering using additional toxic military sites as detention centers for migrant children in U.S. custody."We are extremely concerned to hear of plans to detain immigrant children in Fort Bliss. Military bases filled with contaminated sites are no place for the healthy development of any child," Melissa Legge, an attorney at Earthjustice, said in a statement. Earthjustice argues that the Biden administration's plan to use military bases — many of which the group says "are known to be riddled with toxic hazards from past military operations, spills, storage of toxic chemicals, unexploded ordnances, and firing ranges" — to expand its capacity to temporarily detain unaccompanied children is no solution.According to Earthjustice: "130 military bases and installations are considered priority Superfund sites by the Environmental Protection Agency. There are currently 651 Department of Defense and National Guard sitespotentially contaminated by toxic chemicals known as PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. PFAS don't easily break down, and they can persist in your body and in the environment for decades."Several of the military sites being considered by the Biden administration "are contaminated with potentially hazardous pollutants and some are even located on or near Superfund sites," Earthjustice said. The organization continued:Superfund sites under consideration for housing children in immigration custody include theHomestead Detention Facility in Homestead, Florida, Moffett Field in Mountain View, California, and Joint Base San Antonio in Texas. Many of the sites remain inadequately remediated and still contaminated. Without proper environmental reviews, there is no way to guarantee these sites are safe for children, potentially exposing them to toxic chemicals that could have lifelong health impacts.Fort Bliss is no exception. Earthjustice, along with partners including Alianza Nacional de Campesinas and the National Hispanic Medical Association, released hundreds of documents of searchable documents and an expert analysis of previous plans for construction of a temporary detention center for children and families at Fort Bliss. These records document several problems with the project, including that the Army did not adequately investigate to determine what types of waste had been disposed of at the site, that the methods used for testing the soil samples were inadequate or never completed, and that samples taken after the supposed clean-up still had concerning levels of pollution. Additionally, illegal dumping on the site may continue to this day. As a result, there is now even greater uncertainty about the environmental hazards at the site and a greater need for thorough testing, analysis, and cleanup. "Based on what we found in our Fort Bliss investigation in 2018," said Dr. Elena Rios, president of the National Hispanic Medical Association added, "there are still present toxins from past landfills, which means children could be forcibly exposed to toxicity linked to cancer and development defects."

 Biden seeks to deploy federal employees to immigrant detention facilities - The Biden administration is seeking to deploy federal civilian employees to assist at migrant detention and processing facilities near the US-Mexico border. The deployments are aimed at facilitating, not changing, a brutal policy of incarcerating children fleeing violence and poverty in overcrowded cages. The unaccompanied minors seeking asylum are mostly from Central American countries that have been devastated by US imperialism. The federal employees are to supplement personnel from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). “The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) requires current Federal government civilian employees for 30- to 120-day deployment details to support ORR at facilities for unaccompanied children,” explains the posting on the USAJobs website. “Details will involve contact with migrant children and a variety of federal and non-federal entities, possibly including HHS [Health and Human Services], DHS, American Red Cross, and other Federal employees.” According to the posting, selected participants are to be deployed to “facilities along the Southwest US border area, specifically Dallas, San Diego, San Antonio, and Ft. Bliss. Locations will extend to other geographic areas according to the need.” US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) figures cited by ABC News reveal that there are now 17,641 unaccompanied migrant minors in government care. Of these, 5,606 are in CBP detention and 12,035 are in the custody of HHS. CBP reported apprehending an average of 486 unaccompanied children (age 17 and under) per day at the border during March. The children are taken, along with other migrants, to overcrowded CBP facilities to be processed. Unaccompanied minors are legally required to be transferred to HHS custody within 72 hours, a requirement that is routinely violated. The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within HHS operates a network of more than 200 facilities throughout the US to house and process unaccompanied migrant children. However, the mass detention of children has swamped the network’s 13,500-bed capacity. The Biden administration is scrambling to open additional “emergency intake sites,” including convention centers, abandoned schools and active military bases. The civilian workers are to be deployed to such HHS facilities.

Abandoned young immigrant seen on video asking Border Patrol for help -- Video taken near the Southwest border with Mexico last week shows a young migrant child pleading with immigration authorities for help, telling them that he was abandoned by a larger group of migrants traveling to the U.S."Somebody could rob or kidnap me, I'm scared," the sobbing child can be seen saying in the video. An officer asks the child if he crossed the border with his mother or father. "No, no," the boy responds. "I came with a group and they left me behind." NBC News reported the 10-year-old boy was from Nicaragua and was found walking on a rural road near La Grulla, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley. ABC News reported the child was taken to a migrant holding facility for children in Donna, Texas."It is unconscionable that anyone would abandon these small children, and those responsible for smuggling events like this will be aggressively prosecuted,” Chief Patrol Agent Aaron Heitke said in a statement to NBC News.A recent surge in migrants, particularly unaccompanied minors, across the Southern border has led to criticism of President Biden's immigration policies. Republicans have argued Biden's promise to grant asylum to some 11 million undocumented people currently living in the United States has encouraged mass migration. Democrats have leveled separate criticism of the detention facilities used to hold children who cross the border.Last month, Biden named Vice President Harris to lead the administration's immigration efforts to form partnerships with Mexico and Northern Triangle countries.

McCarthy asks FBI, CIA for briefing after two men on terror watchlist stopped at border   House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is asking the FBI and CIA for a classified briefing with other top lawmakers following reports that two people on the on the FBI's terror watchlist were apprehended after crossing the southern border with Mexico. "This highlights the ongoing national security risk posed by the border crisis," McCarthy wrote in a letter to the leaders of the two agencies. "While I am grateful for the Border Patrol for doing all they can, I have great concerns for a number of bad actors that have escaped arrest and are living in the United States." McCarthy requested the briefing on the arrests for himself, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).McCarthy also asked that Vice President Harris, who was tapped by President Joe Biden last month to lead the effort to control the crisis at the border, also be briefed on the matter. "I hope she, along with the Congressional leaders, could benefit from this briefing," he wrote.  Immigration officials announced this week that two Yemeni men were arrested about two months apart after crossing into the U.S. near the Calexico Port of Entry in California."While encounters of known and suspected terrorists at our borders are very uncommon, they underscore the importance of the critical work our agents carry out on a daily basis to vet all individuals encountered at our borders," a Customs and Border Patrol spokesperson told NBC.McCarthy first warned of "terrorists crossing the border" in March, a claim swatted down by Democrats at the time. “Weird as the Chairman of the subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations and a border state member of Congress haven’t heard anything about this,” Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) tweeted last month. “Gonna ask for a briefing. Pretty sure he is either wrong or lying.”

Stephen Miller launching group to challenge Democrats' policies through lawsuits - Stephen Miller, senior policy adviser for the Trump administration, on Wednesday announced the launch of a legal nonprofit organization aimed at “resisting the radical left’s agenda.”“For too long, conservative and traditionalist Americans have been outflanked, outspent, out-organized, and outmaneuvered by radical progressive legal organizations. It has been a years-long, one-sided legal assault. The consequences for American values, American society, and the American Constitution have been tragic and profound,” Miller said in a statement unveiling America First Legal (AFL).Miller told The Wall Street Journal that anything President Bidendoes "that we believe to be illegal is fair game."Miller, 35, said the AFL was already working on a slew of lawsuits in Texas, hoping to use the same strategy that progressive groups used to block Trump administration policies by pursuing injunctions in more liberal court jurisdictions.“It was an extraordinarily effective tactic, and there’s no counterpoint to that on our side,” Miller, who is not a lawyer, told the Journal. The AFL will include other figures tied to the Trump administration, including Gene Hamilton, former counselor to the attorney general.“As we know, the Radical Left has been relentless in waging their battles in court. Conservatives and America First supporters badly need to catch up and turn the tables, which is why I applaud Stephen and Mark Meadows for rushing to fill this critical void," former President Trumpsaid in statement on the group's launch. "The era of unilateral legal surrender must end—and I hope all America First patriots will get behind America First Legal,” Trump added.Miller was largely credited with being behind the Trump administration's harsh immigration policies, such as its policy to separate families at the border. Miller was among the most controversial figures in the Trump White House. In 2019, leaked emails revealed that he had circulated material linked to white nationalism before joining the administration. The revelation led many Democratic lawmakers to call for Miller's resignation, though the White House stood by him.

Virtue Un-Signaled? Biden Admin Mulls Restarting Border Wall Construction  --Less than 90 days after President Biden signaled his immense virtue by halting construction on Trump's border walland canceling future contracts, Biden's beleaguered Department of Homeland Security is exploring whether to restart border wall construction in order to 'plug gaps' in the current barrier, according the Washington Examiner, citing DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.This of course would make Biden a xenophobic tyrant, if we're playing by the Trump-era media guidebook.In a conversation with Immigration and Customs Enformcement employees last week Mr. Mayorkas was asked about his plans for the wall and he said that while President Biden has canceled the border emergency and halted Pentagon money flowing to the wall, “that leaves room to make decisions” on finishing some “gaps in the wall.”Mr. Mayorkas, according to notes of the ICE session reviewed by The Washington Times, said Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the wall, has submitted a plan for what it wants to see happen moving forward. -Washington Examiner"It’s not a single answer to a single question. There are different projects that the chief of the Border Patrol has presented and the acting commissioner of CBP presented to me," said Mayorkas, adding "The president has communicated quite clearly his decision that the emergency that triggered the devotion of DOD funds to the construction of the border wall is ended. But that leaves room to make decisions as the administration, as part of the administration, in particular areas of the wall that need renovation, particular projects that need to be finished." According to Mayorkas, the work would cover "gaps," "gates," and areas "where the wall has been completed but the technology has not been implemented."

Biden's Border Czar Abruptly Quits Despite 'No Crisis' --While the Biden-Harris administration continues to insist there's 'no border crisis' (as they take over seven hotels near the US-Mexico border), the departure of 'Border Czar' Roberta Jacobson, suggests otherwise. Jacobson, a former US ambassador to Mexico who criticized the White House for sending 'mixed messages' to asylum seekers over whether they should head for the border (which Biden absolutely implied during the 2020 election), is stepping down after less than three months on the job.Suggesting her services were no longer needed (as ICE commandeers seven border-area hotels because government facilities have run out of space), National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Friday that Jacobson's departure was "consistent with her commitment at the outset to serve in the Administration's first 100 days," according to the New York Post.The move comes as the Biden administration is reportedly considering sending cash payments to Central Americans in a bid to prevent them from making the trek north and as Vice President Kamala Harris, tapped by Biden to handle the crisis, still has yet to visit the border. Meanwhile, migrant parents already in the United States say they are not being given regular — if any — updates about the location or well-being of their children in federal custody. And it’s reportedly costing US taxpayers more than $60 million a week to care for 16,500 unaccompanied migrant teenagers and children now in federally run shelters. -NY Post   Despite thousands of migrant children sitting in US Border Patrol detention facilities - White House officials have maintained that there's no crisis - because to do so would mean Biden sparked the crisis when he presented himself as an immigrant-friendly antithesis to President Trump - who he now blames for the border surge.

Interior creates unit on missing, murdered Indigenous women -- Friday, April 2, 2021 -- The Interior Department will marshal its resources to focus on the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women, putting a new emphasis on an issue Secretary Deb Haaland championed during her tenure on Capitol Hill. Haaland announced last night that the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services will operate a new Missing & Murdered Unit to direct cross-department and interagency work involving missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives. "Violence against Indigenous peoples is a crisis that has been underfunded for decades," Haaland said in a statement. "Far too often, murders and missing persons cases in Indian country go unsolved and unaddressed, leaving families and communities devastated. The new MMU unit will provide the resources and leadership to prioritize these cases and coordinate resources to hold people accountable, keep our communities safe, and provide closure for families." According to statistics provided by Interior, the National Crime Information Center currently lists about 1,500 American Indian and Alaska Native missing persons. The MMU operation will "put the full weight of the federal government" into those investigations, Interior said. The new investigations unit will also incorporate a 2019 task force, named Operation Lady Justice, that focused on the same incidents. "That's a crisis that's been happening since Europeans came to this continent 500 years ago," Haaland said in an interview that aired on "CBS Evening News" last night. She added the agency's new unit will "make sure that families can have some answers."

White House rules out involvement in 'vaccine passports' - White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday ruled out the Biden administration playing any role in a "vaccine passport" system as Republican governors in particular balk at the concept. "The government is not now, nor will we be supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential. There will be no federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential," Psaki told reporters at a briefing. The White House has been clear that it would defer to private companies if they wanted to implement some type of vaccine passport system in which individuals would have to provide proof that they received one of the coronavirus shots. "Our interest is very simple from the federal government, which is American's privacy and rights should be protected so that these systems are not used against people unfairly," Psaki said. The federal government will provide guidance about privacy related to the coronavirus vaccines, Psaki said, though she did not provide a timeline. Talk of vaccine passports has sparked pushback among conservatives who have raised concerns about potential government overreach that would discriminate against Americans who opt not to get vaccinated and infringe on their privacy rights. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Monday issued an executive order prohibiting vaccine passports, saying a system to track those who have been inoculated against COVID-19 infringes on citizens' rights. 

Fauci's NIAID Shielded Wuhan Bat Research Grant From Government Oversight - In 2017, a subagency of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) - headed by Dr. Anthony Fauci - resumed funding a controversial grant to genetically modify bat coronaviruses in Wuhan, China without the approval of a government oversight body, according to the Daily Caller. For context, in 2014, the Obama administration temporarily suspended federal funding for gain-of-function research into manipulating bat COVID to be more transmissible to humans. Four months prior to that decision, the NIH effectively shifted this research to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) via a grant to nonprofit group EcoHealth Alliance, headed by Peter Daszak. The first $666,442 installment of EcoHealth's $3.7 million NIH grant was paid in June 2014, with similar annual payments through May 2019 under the "Understanding The Risk Of Bat Coronavirus Emergence" project. Notably, the WIV "had openly participated in gain-of-function research in partnership with U.S. universities and institutions" for years under the leadership of Dr. Shi 'Batwoman' Zhengli, according to the Washington Post's Josh Rogin. In 2017, however, the "Potential Pandemic Pathogens Control and Oversight (P3CO) was formed within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)," which was tasked with evaluating the risks involved with enhancing dangerous pathogens, as well as whether proper safeguards are in place, before a grant into 'gain-of-function' or similarly risky research can be issued. Fauci's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) - the subagency which funded EcoHealth - didn't think the grant needed review, and resumed their relationship with Daszak without flagging it for the P3CO committee, an NIH spokesperson told the Caller. "This is a systemic problem," says Rutgers University professor of chemical biology, Richard H. Ebright, referring to the loophole in the review process - and adding that NIAID and NIH have "systematically thwarted–indeed systematically nullified–the HHS P3CO Framework by declining to flag and forward proposals for review."

 Pfizer CEO says Trump told him vaccine 'will help me' with election --Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla says in an interview set to run Friday that former President Trump told him before last year's election that a coronavirus vaccine could help his chances. On clips from "The Carlos Watson Show" provided in advance exclusively to The Hill, Bourla says that Trump would call to encourage him to get the vaccine out quickly, but emphasized that “he never pressed me to do something that would be inappropriate with a vaccine.” “In the few times that he was telling me that we need to do it fast — first he would say, ‘We need to do it quickly; people are dying,’ and then also he would add, ‘Of course it will help me also in the election, but people is the important thing.’” The head of Pfizer, whose vaccine against COVID-19 became the first approved for use in the U.S. in December, acknowledged that he too wanted to get the vaccine out as soon as possible, but said that he made it clear to both Trump and now-President Biden’s campaign that the development would “move with the speed of science.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez funds the CIA Democrats -On Friday, Politico reported that New York Democratic Congresswoman and Democratic Socialists of America member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez transferred $160,000 in campaign funds to a slate that includes “CIA Democrats”—right-wing congressional Democrats with intelligence and military backgrounds. Politico reported that the contributions were unsolicited and were aimed “to help keep the House majority ahead of a tough cycle.” While Politico only lists Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania, Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and Carolyn Bourdeaux of Georgia by name, it appears based on the report that Ocasio-Cortez donated $5,000 to each of 32 “frontline” candidates selected by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in high-profile midterm races.This list of “frontline” candidates includes many prominent CIA Democrats whom the World Socialist Web Site has identified as having been former representatives of the Pentagon and intelligence agencies. In 2018, the WSWS published a three-part series by Patrick Martin detailing efforts by the military-intelligence agencies to flood the Democratic Party with loyal operatives.Beneficiaries of Ocasio-Cortez’s financial support include Elissa Slotkin (a former CIA agent), Conor Lamb (Marine captain and military prosecutor), Tom Malinowski of New Jersey (an assistant secretary of state under Barack Obama), Abigail Spanberger (CIA operations officer) and Elaine Luria (Navy commander), both of Virginia, Mikie Sherrill (Navy pilot in the Middle East) and Andy Kim (adviser to the US military command, Afghanistan and Iraq director for the National Security Council), both of New Jersey and Jared Golden of Maine (Marine infantryman).Slotkin and Lamb have indicated they will return the donations for fear their Republican opponents will associate them with Ocasio-Cortez.Ocasio-Cortez’s financial support for the CIA Democrats is another lesson in the futility of all efforts to transform the capitalist Democratic Party into a vehicle for progressive social reform.By transferring funds given to her by left-wing supporters into the war chests of the CIA Democrats, Ocasio-Cortez provides an example in financial terms of the fundamental political dynamic of right-wing Democratic Party politics. Far from moving the Democratic Party to the left, figures like Ocasio-Cortez merely trap left-wing social opposition, disarm it, and transform it into political capital for the very establishment they claim to oppose.

Anti-War Activist Visited By Police After Posting Embarrassing AOC Video - An anti-war activist said he was visited by California Highway Patrol officers after posting video of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s bumbling comments on Israel-Palestine. The action, which AOC denies triggering, was initiated by a call to US Capitol Police.As he waited for a food delivery at his home in Los Angeles on April 8, Ryan Wentz, an anti-war activist and producer for the online viral program, Soapbox, heard two men calling his name from over his front gate. When he approached, he realized they were not delivery drivers, but police officers flashing badges of the California Highway Patrol. The cops informed Wentz that they had received a call from the Capitol Police, the federal law enforcement agency tasked with protecting the US Congress, about a tweet he had sent that allegedly threatened Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Wentz told The Grayzone, "The officers said, 'We got a warning about a sitting member of Congress. And it was because of your tweet, which tagged them in it. And then they just wouldn’t back down from this accusation that I threatened to kill her.'" The California Highway Patrol indicated on Twitter that it had acted on a call from Capitol Police. Update: A spokesperson for AOC has denied to Intercept reporter Ryan Grim that their office reported Wentz’s post, and has "asked Capitol Police to look into what happened here."The police visit Wentz received may be part of a wider trend of post-January 6 police intervention in social media criticism of members of Congress.Though AOC’s office has denied falsely informing Capitol Police of an online threat by Wentz, the Democratic congresswoman has in the past asked her supporters to report critics to social media censors.

Daily Mail Exposes Hunter Biden Bombshells After 'Tell-All' Book Holds Back -  With Hunter Biden on a serious image rehabilitation tour - a 'tell all' book combined with television interviews from friendly outlets designed to invoke pity over the First Son's crack and hooker habits, the Daily Mail is now telling the rest of the story regarding the contents of his abandoned laptop after Hunter admitted it 'certainly' could be his in a Sunday interview withCBS.If you've seen the laptop photos which leaked last October, you can probably stop here. The Mail did spare us from blurred pictures of Hunter's wang, along with several sex tapes released by exiled Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui.After obtaining a copy of the hard drive, commissioned top cyber forensics experts Maryman & Associates to analyze its data and determine whether the laptop's contents were real.The firm's founder, Brad Maryman, is a 29-year FBI veteran Supervisory Special Agent who served as an Information Security Officer and founded its first computer forensics lab. -Daily Mail The Mail obtained over 100,000 text messages, 154,000 emails and over 2,000 photos which were verified by top forensics experts, which reveal that Joe 'became a punching bag for Hunter's drug-fueled rants,' and 'paid his grandchildren's bills when Hunter had drained his bank accounts with prostitutes and crack cocaine.' Hunter appeared to be obsessed with making and starring in porn films with prostitutes, videos and photos on his laptop show.The hard drive contains hundreds of pictures of naked women and naked selfies of Hunter, as well as dozens of videos.Hunter photographed and filmed himself, often with two prostitutes at a time, in explicit videos that he then posted on adult website Pornhub under the username 'RHEast'.Hunter filmed himself with the women from his laptop webcam, sometimes shooting at different angles using an iPad and cell phone. -Daily Mail The Mail also promises to release more Hunter laptop drops: Hunter's laptop is a pandora's box of shocking revelations, explicit photos and intimate communications.In the following days, will publish more shocking stories from Hunter's laptop, including:

  • How Hunter blew hundreds of thousands on prostitutes, drugs and luxury cars, leaving him scrambling to avoid jail for $320k in unpaid taxes
  • How five members of the Biden family have been to rehab for drug or alcohol abuse – and a stunning admission by Joe to his son
  • The OTHER Biden family member planning to buy and cook crack, after falling into the disastrous addiction with Hunter
  • Hunter's unconventional and unlikely relationship with his well-known psychiatrist
  • The whispered bedroom conversation with a prostitute caught on Hunter's webcam, in which he confesses he had a previous laptop stolen – by Russians for blackmail

The president's son left his 2017 MacBook Pro laptop at a Wilmington, Delaware computer repair shop in April 2019 and never returned for it.

  U.S. government, states ask judge to deny Facebook's request to dismiss lawsuits (Reuters) - The Federal Trade Commission and a big group of U.S. states asked a federal court on Wednesday to deny Facebook Inc’s request to dismiss major antitrust lawsuits filed against the social media giant in December. The FTC, in its filing, said Facebook bought photo-sharing app Instagram because Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg believed it was “a large and viable competitor” and purchased the messaging app WhatsApp to neutralize a nascent threat. The FTC has asked the court to order Facebook to sell those assets. The states, which had filed a separate antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, said in its filing: “Deploying a buy-or-bury scheme of predatory acquisitions and exclusionary conduct, Facebook successfully squashes, suppresses, and deters competition, entrenching its monopoly power to this day.” Facebook had asked the court to dismiss the two lawsuits, alleging that they were brought “in the fraught environment of relentless criticism of Facebook for matters entirely unrelated to antitrust concerns.” It also said that the states, in their case, failed to show that they were harmed by Facebook and that they waited too long. The FTC and states accused Facebook of breaking antitrust law to keep smaller competitors at bay and snapping up rivals, like Instagram for $1 billion in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014 for $19 billion. All told, the federal government and states filed five lawsuits against Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google last year following bipartisan outrage over use and misuse of social media clout both in the economy and the political sphere.

Taibbi: On The Miserable Necessity Of Doing Censorship Stories In Pairs -- For roughly half a year, I’ve been running a series of interviews here on TK called “Meet The Censored,” with the aim of highlighting the scope of a growing Internet censorship issue.From now on, “Meet the Censored” articles will be released in pairs. The speech debate has become so partisan that people now often cheer news that this or that person has been kicked off the Internet — this is an increasingly common reaction. When I profiled World Socialist Web Site writer Andre Damon, conservatives complained that his site wasn’t representative of the censorship problem, and I was showing bias. When I profiled Irreversible Damage author Abigail Shrier, leftists argued I was carrying water for the intolerant right.I don’t particularly care whom people think I’m carrying water for, but in the effort to keep eyes on the ball, I’m going to release these stories in matched sets: one on the right, one on the left, one conservative, one not, etc. The first two such pieces, coming out today, will feature the non-profit investigative outfit U.S. Right to Know, and well-known conservative reporter Paul Sperry.Nearly three years ago, when I first started covering this stuff, I realized the censorship issue would be a tough sell in the Trump era.For blue-leaning audiences, news that companies like Facebook and Google had begun shutting down or de-ranking accounts in ways we’d never seen before was, to my initial shock, mostly perceived as a good thing. In the wake of Trump’s election, many Democrats believed something had to be done about “fake news,” Russian trolls, and, especially, inflammatory right-wing speech.Polls showed 40% of millennials believed the government should be allowed to limit speech offensive to minorities, a number significantly higher than the one for either Baby Boomers (23%) or GenXers (27%). If those levels of support among younger voters existed for outright government censorship, how would that audience ever be convinced to care about private companies zapping political accounts? The issue was such a non-starter with younger, blue-leaning audiences that when I did a feature about Facebook’s 2018 purges of so-called “inauthentic” accounts, Rolling Stone headlined the piece, “Who Will Fix Facebook?”, as if to disguise what the story was actually about. (I got letters from disappointed readers who’d been drawn in by the headline, hoping to read a story demanding that Facebook wipe out more right-wing/conspiratorial content). After the expulsion of Alex Jones and Infowars from Apple, Facebook, Google, and Spotify, it seemed many younger readers didn’t see a problem with increased content moderation. If anything, Silicon Valley didn’t remove enough obnoxious content.

Wikipedia’s Deep Ties to Big Tech --There are no polls, but it is a safe guess that the general public thinks of Wikipedia, the ubiquitous online encyclopedia, as one more plucky non-governmental organization in which poorly remunerated, public-spirited scholars and savants struggle to bring enlightenment to an extensively unappreciative world. The truth, though, is rather more complex. Wikipedia’s use of an objective and authoritative writing style, without commensurate safeguards for quality or disclosure of conflicts, creates an ethical conundrum for both Wikipedia and parent Wikimedia.Despite frequent protestations to the contrary, Wikimedia – the San Francisco-based parent non-profit of Wikipedia – has enormous financial reserves. There is no immediate need for more funds and its long-term strategy plan, Wikimedia 2030, lacks specificity about how additional money might be spent.According to its latest financial disclosures, the Wikimedia Foundation has net assets adequate to run its servers for 75 years if it receives no further funds nor interest on its savings. Beyond that, the servers can hum along an additional 63 years from funds in a Wikimedia Endowment held by a partner charity, the Tides Foundation. Put into perspective, Wikimedia servers can function just under nine years from a one-time donation Wikimedia sent to Tides Advocacy in their last financial statement. They have about $1 million in reserves for every employee. Wikipedia is in no danger of going dark in our lifetime.As a non-profit, Wikimedia does not have direct access to the wealth their for-profit Big Tech cousins enjoy. Instead, the firm relies on donations which, as illustrated below, are more than adequate to meet its needs. Its latest fundraising report lists about six million active donors large and small.However, it is not lost on the firm that Wikipedia content powers extraordinarily wealthy businesses. “There has long been a feeling among community members that these companies should do more to reinvest in the Wikimedia communities for the benefits they gain from the content and resources they use,” wrote members of the team implementing a new service,Wikimedia Enterprise, a for-profit Delaware-based company to charge Big Tech for easier electronic access to Wikipedia content.

 Stock Buybacks Stand in the Way of Biden’s Infrastructure Plan --By Lynn Parramore, the Institute for New Economic Thinking - President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure and climate proposal has a lot of people excited, and no wonder. Americans are sick of being stuck with frazzled electric grids, foul drinking water, falling bridges, far too many left out of prosperity, and feeling that the country’s global status is suffering.On March 31st, President Biden described his vision to carpenters at a training facility in Pittsburgh: “It’s going to boost America’s innovative edge in markets where global leadership is up for grabs—markets like battery technology, biotechnology, computer chips, clean energy, the competition with China in particular.”Sounds great! But according to economist William Lazonick, a leading expert on business innovation, we can’t get there without first dealing with how Wall Street billionaires are allowed to call the shots for American businesses. Right now, large, capable companies like GE and Intel – companies that could be mobilized to help achieve the laudable goals of Biden’s plan — aregetting their marching orders from hedge fund predators looking to make a quick buck. The interests of these financiers don’t align with what firms need to be doing to achieve large-scale, long-term goals, like competing with China on clean energy.In Lazonick’s view, any company that gets taxpayer-funded subsidies to partner with the Biden administration on an infrastructure and climate plan should be focused on ramping up its capabilities and delivering the products America needs, not playing Wall Street casino games for the benefit of wealthy hedge fund managers and executives. This myopic mentality resulted in big firms losing interest in doing things like investing in R&D, building manufacturing plants, or using profits to attract and retain the best talent. Nowadays, whenever they try these things, a set of Wall Street predators stands poised and ready to attack them. The use of stock buybacks for stock price manipulation used to be unlawful. But in 1982, enter Ronald Reagan and his Wall Street-friendly cohorts. They handed companies what Lazonick calls “a license to loot.” The ‘80s was the time when people started accepting the “Greed is Good” mentality reflected in Oliver Stone’s iconic movie, “Wall Street” – an attitude that has helped stoke many societal and economic problems, including the worst rates of inequality the country has ever seen.

 Lenders want more funding for newly extended PPP - Lenders who successfully lobbied for more time to make Paycheck Protection Program loans now want more money to be made available for the program. Though the PPP’s expiration date was recently extended from March 31 to May 31, there are concerns the program’s remaining $66 billion of funding could run out before the end of April. The amount of available funds could drop substantially if thousands of applications stalled by error codes make their way through the Small Business Administration’s portal. And a number of banks that stopped making PPP loans resumed operations when the extension was passed. The government “will disappoint a lot of people if it is unable to get its act together in terms of getting the money in play,” Biz2Credit CEO Rohit Arora said. “If there’s enough demand to exhaust funding, there’s a very good argument to top it off,” said John Asbury, president and CEO of the $19.6 billion-asset Atlantic Union Bankshares in Richmond, Va. The Biden administration’s decision to let sole proprietors, independent contractors and other small-scale entrepreneurs qualify for bigger loans— replacing net profit with gross income as the basis for calculating maximum loan sizes — boosted interest in the program. The SBA implemented the change on March 8. “We’re seeing our pace increase” because of the administration’s change, said Sam Sidhu, vice chairman and chief operating officer at $18.6 billion-asset Customers Bank in Wyomissing, Pa. “We’ve had the two biggest weeks we’ve had so far the last two weeks, over 20,000 loans,” Sidhu added. “We would expect this week to be just as big, if not bigger. The volume of loans has kicked up because people are coming off the sidelines.” The PPP was designed to offer forgivable loans of up to $10 million to small businesses with 500 or fewer employees. Because loan amounts were derived initially using a borrower’s pre-pandemic profit, the smallest firms, which typically operate on thinner margins, were effectively shut out during the first phase, which lasted from April 3 to Aug. 8. The SBA approved 5.2 million loans totaling $525 billion in the first phase, for an average loan size of $101,000. Congress authorized $284 billion in funding when the PPP was reauthorized in late December; recent legislation added another $7 billion to the program.

  Bank M&A rules could get even tougher under Biden— In the final months of the Trump administration, the Department of Justice launched a plan to consider changes to its bank-merger review process, raising industry hopes that the outdated regime would be overhauled.But that was before the November election. With the Biden administration now calling the shots and the department led by Attorney General Merrick Garland, progressives are now urging the DOJ to institute a tougher review process to address branch closures and other potential economic harms for lower-income consumers posed by consolidation.“The general direction of merger review has turned 180 degrees since the 2020 election,” said Jeremy Kress, a business law professor at the University of Michigan and a former attorney at the Federal Reserve, where he advised the agency on bank merger approvals. “When the Trump administration started reviewing the bank merger standards, it was telegraphing that it was planning to loosen the standards to make them easier to pass. I do not expect that the Biden administration will follow through in that direction.”In September, the DOJ invited public comment on a plan to update reviews of bank mergers for antitrust concerns. The department released more than a dozen questions including whether the process should scrutinize online lenders more closely and whether rural areas should have different market-concentration thresholds than urban areas. The comment period ended Oct. 16.Many in the industry saw the effort as potentially benefiting smaller banks. Some also hoped the department would consider competition from fintechs and other nonbanks before determining that a merger affords an acquirer too much dominance over a financial services market.In a February speech, Federal Reserve Gov. Michelle Bowman argued it was time for the agency to update its own review process of bank holding company mergers to better reflect the competition smaller banks face from tech companies.  Brad Bolton, president and CEO of Community Spirit Bank in Red Bay, Ala., said regulators’ thresholds for market concentration have a stronger effect on the country’s smallest banks, particularly in areas with already-limited bank presence.“Two $150 million institutions in one county who are both locally owned and operated — if they came together, they could gain economies of scale while still being locally owned and operated by local people,” Bolton said. But progressives who submitted comment letters have urged the DOJ's Antitrust Division to strengthen — not weaken — the competitive thresholds and standards regulators consider before approving bank mergers.

 Partisan battle brewing over regulators' ESG focus — For months, regulators and Democratic policymakers have shined a brighter spotlight on social disparities in the financial system and banks' climate-change risks. But GOP objections to that focus are also getting louder. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, has led an examination by the panel into the racial wealth gap just as the Federal Reserve studies similar issues and weighs climate stress tests for banks. On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen suggested financial institutions should structure their businesses around the Paris Agreement on climate change. But Republicans in both the House and Senate have opened a new line of attack in response, saying that the financial system is an inappropriate arena for addressing social and climate issues. "By straying from its core mission and authorities in support of vague and ill-defined climate goals, the Federal Reserve’s actions threaten to undermine its credibility and betray its independence," said Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, at a March 18 hearing. Republicans' counterpunch is centered on the idea that they don’t see a role for banks and their regulators to conduct social policy. “Republicans don't think financial services providers should be used as tools to advance public policy objectives, saying it's just not appropriate, it's not their role, they should be focused on generating a profit and returns for their investors, not on a social justice agenda," said Dan Crowley, a partner at K&L Gates. "Republicans don't view climate change as within the regulatory responsibilities of the federal agencies. They see financial regulation and climate change as apples and oranges.” Toomey has called out the Financial Stability Oversight Council for prioritizing the risks associated with climate change. Last week, he criticized research by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco that examines environment, social and governance policies. Toomey referred to such research by the Fed regional banks as "mission creep." After Yellen remarked at last week's FSOC meeting that climate change was an "existential threat," Toomey said the new Democratic policy priority "is not grounded in science or economics, but is instead a self-fulfilling prophecy: claim there are future regulatory risks for carbon intensive industries, then use unelected, unaccountable financial regulators to impose regulatory costs on those activities." “If Congress believes current environmental policies do not adequately address climate-related risks, changes should be enacted through the legislative process — not through financial regulation," he said.

Banks pledge to fight climate crisis – but their boards have deep links with fossil fuels - US banks are pledging to help fight the climate crisis alongside the Biden administration, but their boards are dominated by people with climate-related conflicts of interest, and they continue to invest deeply in fossil fuel projects.Three out of every four board members at seven major US banks (77%) have current or past ties to climate-conflicted companies or organizations – from oil and gas corporations to trade groups that lobby against reducing climate pollution, according to a first-of-its-kind review by climate influence analysts for DeSmog.One of the controversial projects those board members have chosen to back is the new Line 3 tar sands pipeline, currently under construction in northern Minnesota. If completed, the project would allow the Canadian oil giant Enbridge to double the amount of high-polluting tar sands oil it transports through the region to 760,000 barrels per day.Environmental groups estimate the new Line 3 would add 50 new coal plants’ worth of carbon emissions to the atmosphere every year for the next three to five decades. They say it is incompatible with the Biden administration’s climate and environmental goals, and they argue the project never should have been approved. They add that the Trump administration didn’t independently review the risks of building a tar sands pipeline underneath the headwaters of the Mississippi River, which flows all the way to the US Gulf coast.Neither Biden nor the banks funding Line 3 have acknowledged these concerns, and time is running out to halt construction. So in recent weeks, Indigenous water protectors in Minnesota have resorted to physically chaining themselves to Enbridge equipment, while activists across the country have been chaining themselves to the doors of the banks who finance the pipeline.“There’s been a lot of complacency. People have been pursuing comfortable routes of advocacy,” said Tara Houska, whose group Giniw Collective has ledseveral direct actions against Line 3. “I don’t think we’re going to get the answers we need comfortably.”Enbridge has seven active loans relevant to Line 3, totaling $11.5bn, according to the Rainforest Action Network (Ran). In addition, banks have underwritten bonds to Enbridge totaling $5bn since the autumn of 2019, the group said. From the US, Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo have made the project possible with billions of dollars in loans, although it’s impossible to tally precisely how much they have financed for the pipeline specifically. Another five large Canadian banks are also financing Enbridge, according to Ran. Out of these nine North American banks backing Enbridge, six have recently published net-zero climate goals, pledging to align their investments with the international Paris climate agreement. “The banks are gorging on doughnuts and then eating an apple afterwards,” . “We certainly can’t rely on banks or the private sector to lead us into climate safety and lead us toward emissions reductions. We need policy, we need regulation. We need government to act.” DeSmog found Canadian banks have the highest percentage of directors with climate-conflicted ties: 82%. That figure was significant in the UK and elsewhere in Europe as well, at 78% and 61%, respectively.

FDIC revives effort to modernize agency's signage for digital age - — The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has resurrected its push to modernize the agency’s iconic logo almost a year after a global pandemic grounded the effort.The FDIC first sought feedback on how it could update its logo for the digital age in February of last year, citing the need to address recent shifts in bank technology and consumer behaviors. But the process was suspended two months later, in April, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.“As banks continue to innovate,” the agency said in a press release Friday, “the FDIC is renewing its effort to revise and clarify its official sign and advertising rules related to FDIC deposit insurance.”Comments for the renewed information request, with questions largely similar to the original request, are due May 24. Banks have been required by federal law to display the agency’s signage wherever deposits are taken since the 1950s, including at bank branches and ATMs. The regulations around the sign have not been significantly updated since 2006, leaving bankers with questions about the proper use of the FDIC logo in their mobile apps, social media advertising and other digital arenas.The FDIC is also seeking feedback on how it could better use its sign — a longtime seal of confidence for the nation’s depositors — to combat fraudsters."The FDIC is exploring whether technological or other solutions might enable consumers to validate when they are interacting with a FDIC-insured financial institution when visiting websites and using apps on mobile devices," the agency said in its request.

Citigroup fights for freeze on $500 million it sent in blunder - Revlon lenders that received more than half a billion dollars in accidental payments from Citigroup are asking a judge to free up the money he’s already ruled is theirs to keep. The bank sued 10 asset managers for the Revlon lenders last summer to force them to return $504 million it had mistakenly wired them, an epic back office blunder that led to a closely watched trial. U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman froze the funds while the dispute played out. Then, in a surprise decision in February, Furman ruled for the money managers, finding they shouldn’t have been expected to know the wire transfers were an error. Citibank appealed his ruling. On Friday the bank will ask Furman to maintain the freeze pending the outcome of its appeal. It has said in court filings that the money “represents a lottery-like windfall” to the creditors and may not be recoverable, or even traceable, if it’s distributed to investors around the world. The asset managers — which include Brigade Capital Management, HPS Investment Partners and Symphony Asset Management — have asked the judge to lift his injunction on the money, saying they received exactly what they were owed and should be free to use the cash as they wish. Furman could rule from the bench but is likelier to consider the matter after he hears each side’s oral argument and render his decision in the coming days or weeks. “While many lenders have recognized the payment was in error and returned several hundred million dollars, we were forced to take other lenders to trial,” Danielle Romero-Apsilos, a spokeswoman for Citigroup, said in a statement. “Those funds sent to those lenders have been frozen by court order, and we are seeking to have that freeze continue through our appeal. We believe we have strong arguments on appeal.” Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, which represents the defendants, declined to comment on the case. Keeping the funds on hold will be harder for the bank than it was earlier, said Elliott Stein, a senior litigation analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. “Citibank won a freeze of the funds before the trial but may have a harder time extending that freeze now that it lost at trial,” he said. “One of the key elements — showing that Citi would be irreparably harmed if the freeze is lifted — may be applied more stringently post-trial.”

Hacked companies are paying off ransomware gangs, the criminals are reinvesting the profits in making bigger and bolder attacks, and there's no end in sight - A vicious cycle is fueling ransomware, one of the world's worst cybercrimes, in which criminals seize control of companies' computer networks, encrypting their data with secret codes. Companies paralyzed by the attacks paid hackers an average of $312,493 in 2020 – triple the average of the year before. The criminals are reinvesting their profits in increasingly-efficient operations, making for even bigger and bolder attacks.   The cybersecurity industry, meanwhile, has no easy answers. "I don't see a light at the end of the tunnel," said Josh Motta, CEO of the cyberinsurance firm Coalition, which helps companies hit by ransomware. Coalition and other cyber insurance firms also cover data theft, breaches, and social engineering attacks.   "We haven't done a great job," said Jon DiMaggio, a veteran cybersecurity researcher at the company Analyst1. DiMaggio said that while the industry is struggling to address ransomware, its practitioners are thriving.  Last year ransomware attacks grew 435%, according to Deep Instinct, an New York City startup that uses artificial intelligence to fight the attacks. The gangs took down the networks of 560 healthcare facilities, 1,681 schools and colleges, and more than 1,300 companies, according to Emsisoft, a New Zealand cybersecurity company that helps ransomware victims get back their data. Ransomware could cost companies $20 billion this year. But the fact is, no one really knows the cost, because so many victims cave to their attackers' demands, and pay them off rather than reporting the crime. New research from Kaspersky finds that 56% of ransomware victims pay the ransom.  The criminals tightened the screws on victims over the past two years by posting their stolen data if they did not pay. That extortion tactic, which exposed classified data and even military weapons plans, put more pressure on companies to pay.   Cybersecurity insurance, a booming market expected to grow from $7.8 billion in 2020 to $20.4 billion in 2025, has sped up relief for the victims of ransomware by helping companies get back up and running. However, those insurers, too, have been criticized for contributing to the problem — the recovery services they offer will often hinge on paying off the ransomware attacker on a client's behalf, again adding to the cybercriminals' considerable coffers. Indeed, the FBI urges companies not to pay up, and a former British cybersecurity official went much further than that. The UK's former top cybersecurity official, Ciaran Martin, accused cybersecurity companies of "funding organized crime" because they facilitate payments to ransomware gangs. 

 Goldman faces vote on report of mandatory-arbitration impact -- After Wells Fargo became the first of the largest U.S. banks to do away with mandatory arbitration for sexual harassment complaints last year, Goldman Sachs Group is being urged to take steps in the same direction. Goldman faces a vote at its annual meeting later this month on whether it should publish a report on how its mandatory-arbitration policy impacts employees and workplace culture. The bank is asking shareholders to vote against the proposal, filed by the Nathan Cummings Foundation, while the prominent shareholder-advisory firm Glass, Lewis & Co. is recommending that investors vote in favor. Forced-arbitration policies have come under scrutiny in the wake of the #MeToo era as being one of many ways companies prevent complaints from coming to light. Facebook, Alphabet’s Google and Microsoft, have done away with mandatory arbitration for sexual-harassment claims in recent years. Wells Fargo followed last year after discussions with investors. Still, the practice remains widespread on Wall Street. Goldman — which, like most of its rivals, has only ever been run by men — is fighting one of Wall Street’s biggest class-action discrimination cases. The lawsuit was brought more than a decade ago by women who say the firm let managers make biased pay decisions and denied opportunities. The bank has tried to send the women into arbitration, though the plaintiffs said earlier this year they expect a trial in early 2022. Goldman isn’t alone: Morgan Stanley’s former head of diversity, Marilyn Booker, sued the firm last year over “systemic racial discrimination” against African Americans at the bank, claims that the firm has said it will fight. In its Goldman shareholder proposal, Nathan Cummings said mandatory arbitration limits employees’ remedies for wrongdoing, keeps misconduct secret and prevents workers from learning about shared concerns. “When hidden discrimination or harassment problems surface, multiple employees may step forward at once, creating a sudden and significant brand liability,” the foundation said, citing instances at companies including 21st Century Fox, Intel and Nike. Goldman said in its proxy statement that a report about its mandatory-arbitration impacts is unnecessary. Disputes are best resolved in arbitration, which provides mutual benefits to the firm and employees, such as speedier resolutions, lower costs for both parties and a lack of limitations on rights or remedies, the bank said. Goldman said that it has a “zero tolerance” approach to harassment and discrimination, and has “robust firmwide controls” in place to “encourage reporting and prevent and address employee misconduct.” The firm has enacted programs and training focused on workplace conduct, it said.

JPMorgan’s Federally-Insured Bank Holds $2.65 Trillion in Stock Derivatives; How Did It Avoid the Archegos Blowup? by Pam Martens - In late March, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) released its quarterly report on “Bank Trading and Derivatives Activities.” Graph 15 of the reportshows that using data submitted by banks on their form RC-R of their call reports, JPMorgan Chase’s federally insured bank had exposure to $2.65 trillion in notional equity (stock) derivatives as of December 31, 2020. (Notional means face amount.)That’s a stunning figure for the largest federally-insured bank in the United States to have in exposure to the stock market. But more stunning is the fact that according to the OCC, JPMorgan Chase’s equity derivative contracts represent 63 percent of the total $4.197 trillion of equity derivative contracts held by all federally insured banks and savings associations in the United States. To put it another way, there were 5,033 federally insured banks and savings associations in the United States as of September 30, 2020 according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). But just one of them, JPMorgan Chase, accounts for 63 percent of all equity derivatives.  Making the situation even more jaw-dropping, of the $2.65 trillion that JPMorgan Chase holds in equity derivative contracts, 72 percent of them are private, bilateral contracts, known as over-the-counter contracts. This means that federal regulators likely have little to no knowledge of the terms of those contracts; who the counter-party is to JPMorgan Chase; if that counter-party has also obtained leverage under similar contracts at other Wall Street banks and is at risk of blowing up the whole of Wall Street if it implodes. This raises the serious question as to whether the Senate Banking and House Financial Services Committees should be investigating the gamification of markets or the monetization of the stock market via Wall Street’s ownership of federally insured deposits.Given the outsized exposure that JPMorgan Chase has to equity derivatives and its history of high-risk dealings that have backfired, it strikes us as peculiar that the bank has not released a statement regarding its exposure (or non-exposure) to losses from the recent blowup of the hedge fund Archegos Capital Management as a result of its highly-leveraged equity derivative contracts with some of the biggest banks on Wall Street.Given JPMorgan Chase’s five felony counts over the past seven years for its wild risk appetite, one has to wonder if there has been no mention by it of  Archegos’ losses because it has gotten better at managing risk or simply better at managing the New York media. One notable fact stands out. According to JPMorgan Chase’s 13F filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission for the period ending December 31, 2020, JPMorgan Chase held 23.9 million shares of Discovery Inc. common stock – one of the key stock positions that collapsed in price in late March and helped to bring down the Archegos hedge fund. According to press reports, Archegos likely owned exposure to Discovery Inc. via an equity derivatives contract with a major Wall Street bank.

"A Gigantic Clusterf**k": How Morgan Stanley Avoided $10BN In Archegos Losses By Selling First -In the most detailed account yet of what happened in the fateful 24 hours between March 25 and 26, when many - but not all - of Archegos' big prime brokers starting dumping blocks of Bill Hwang's margined stock, CNBC's Hugh Son writes that "the night before the Archegos Capital story burst into public view late last month, the fund’s biggest prime broker quietly unloaded some of its risky positions to hedge funds, people with knowledge of the trades told CNBC."That prime broker was Morgan Stanley and to avoid what could have been up to $10 billion in losses, the bank sold about $5 billion in shares from Archegos’ holdings in media and Chinese tech names to a small group of hedge funds late Thursday, March 25, roughly around the time a last ditch negotiation between prime brokers including Credit Suisse failed to reach a compromise to avoid a firesale.Morgan Stanley's scramble to "be first" is a previously unreported detail that shows the extraordinary steps some banks took to protect themselves from incurring losses from a client’s meltdown. The moves, Son reports, benefited Morgan Stanley, while banks that were slow to react such as Credit Suisse and Nomura have seen billions in losses and widespread C-Suite layoffs. Credit Suisse said Tuesday that it took a $4.7 billion hit after unwinding losing Archegos positions; the firm also cut its dividend and halted share buybacks.It was also not previously known that Morgan Stanley had the blessing of Archegos itself to shop around its stock late Thursday. The bank offered the shares at a discount, telling the hedge funds that they were part of a margin call that could prevent the collapse of an unnamed client. Alas, all those hedge funds that bought Archegos holdings late on Thursday are now deep underwater on their positions. That's because Morgan Stanley had information it didn’t share with the stock buyers: as CNBC details, the basket of shares it was selling, comprised of eight or so names including Baidu and Tencent Music, was merely the opening salvo of an unprecedented wave of tens of billions of dollars in sales by Morgan Stanley and other investment banks starting the very next day. And now, it is Morgan Stanley's other clients - those who bought the Archegos positions when approched by the mega broker - that are furious at the bank for having been betrayed and not receiving that crucial context, according to one of the people familiar with the trades. The hedge funds learned later in press reports that Hwang and his prime brokers convened Thursday night to attempt an orderly unwind of his positions, a task which we reported last week proved to be impossible especially once word of the conclave got out. That means that at least some bankers at Morgan Stanley knew the extent of the selling that was likely and that Hwang’s firm was unlikely to be saved, CNBC's sources claim. And, as we explained one week ago in "Goldman And Morgan Stanley Broke Ranks ", it was that knowledge that helped Morgan Stanley and rival Goldman Sachs avoid losses because the firms quickly disposed of shares tied to Archegos.

 Archegos: Wall Street Was Effectively Giving 85 Percent Margin Loans on Concentrated Stock Positions – Thwarting the Fed’s Reg T and Its Own Margin Rules --Pam Martens - The short version on what the collapse of the Archegos Capital Management hedge fund signifies is that it was one more in a long series of Wall Street’s maniacal wealth extraction schemes for the one percent that blew up in its face. Let’s start with press reports that major Wall Street firms were making 85 percent margin loans to purchase stocks against 15 percent cash collateral put up by Archegos. The Federal Reserve’s Regulation T (Reg T) is codified in 12 CFR § 220.12 and spells out margin requirements on stock trades as follows: “50 percent of the current market value of the security or the percentage set by the regulatory authority where the trade occurs, whichever is greater.” Under the seeming law of the land, broker dealers on Wall Street could not have loaned Archegos more than 50 percent to make its stock purchases. But to get around this, the banks did not open a margin account for Archegos. According to the press reports, the banks instead structured derivative contracts where they loaned 85 percent of the money to Archegos to make the trades while, technically, retaining ownership of the stock themselves. By not following federal regulatory rules for margin accounts and stock trading, the Wall Street firms fell into a number of traps. Every prudent brokerage firm on Wall Street has far stiffer requirements than 50 percent margin if the customer is loading up on the same stock. That’s because the customer is concentrating his risk in one name (that could receive a negative credit rating or other negative news) as well as concentrating his risk that he will be able to exit that position without driving down the share price.  According to reporting in the New York Times over the weekend, Archegos owned “$20 billion in shares of ViacomCBS, effectively making him the media company’s single largest institutional shareholder. But few knew about his total exposure, since the shares were mostly held through complex financial instruments, called derivatives, created by the banks.” This derivative deception evaded another important rule that benefits both U.S. corporations and all investors. When an individual or other entity acquires 5 percent or more of a company’s stock, they have to make a public filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission – allowing the company and other investors to be aware of who is acquiring the company’s stock so that they are afforded material disclosures. But as Sung Kook “Bill” Hwang, the man behind Archegos Capital hedge fund, was amassing his giant stake in ViacomCBS, no one was the wiser because he did not make such filings. This denied the company and other investors of the knowledge that a man previously charged by the SEC with insider trading and manipulating stock prices was the force behind the runup in the share price of ViacomCBS. In addition, according to Yahoo! Finance, ViacomCBS Class B shares have had an average daily trading volume of 32.53 million shares over the past three months. Exactly how does one expect to exit 208 million shares quickly during a margin call without dramatically driving down the share price. The answer is that Archegos didn’t have an exit plan and neither did the Wall Street firms that fed him all of that leverage. When Archegos couldn’t meet its margin calls, Wall Street firms that included Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, Nomura, Deutsche Bank and others began dumping Archegos’ stocks. Shares of ViacomCBS lost more than 50 percent of its market value in just four trading sessions between Wednesday, March 21 and the closing bell on Monday, March 26. ViacomCBS is a member of the S&P 500 index. Price discovery is a key function of markets. Investors suffer when media outlets are tricked into falsely reporting what’s driving upward moves in stock prices.

Did Archegos, Like Renaissance Hedge Fund, Avoid Billions in U.S. Tax Payments through a Scheme with the Banks?  By Pam Martens --It has become clear from the ongoing drip, drip, drip of new revelations of what was going on behind the scenes of hedge fund Archegos Capital Management, its wealthy owner, Sung Kook (Bill) Hwang, and Wall Street’s global banks, that the public has seen just the first act in what is certain to be a far more complex drama.A summary of the basics of what the public has been told thus far sheds light on why the full Archegos story has yet to be revealed. According to major media reports, Archegos was obtaining leverage of more than 6 times the cash it was putting up as collateral to buy stocks that were held in accounts at a handful of Wall Street’s largest banks. Through a privately negotiated derivatives contract, the banks claimed to technically own the stocks but the hedge fund, Archegos, selected the stocks, directed the trading in the accounts and got the upside as well as the downside of trading returns. In exchange, the bank collected a fee.A critical missing part of this story is this: if the Wall Street banks were claiming to technically own the stocks in the Archegos account, who was responsible for paying the billions in taxes that were owed to Uncle Sam on short-term and long-term capital gains on the stock sales? According to media reports, Hwang had amassed a fortune of $10 billion from his trading accounts between 2013 and early March 2021. Thus, there had to be billions in capital gains taxes owed along the way.The structure of the Archegos account sounds uncannily similar to a jaw-dropping investigation conducted by the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in 2014 that found that hedge funds had used a similar structure to “avoid taxes and leverage limits.” The Renaissance Technologies (RenTec or RenTech) hedge fund was a central focus of the Senate investigation, which concluded that it had avoided paying $6.8 billion in taxes to the IRS as a result of the scheme.

Sherrod Brown seeks answers from banks linked to Archegos - Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown asked banks involved with Bill Hwang’s Archegos Capital Management to explain their role in the firm’s implosion. Credit Suisse Securities, Nomura Holding America, Goldman Sachs Group and Morgan Stanley should respond with “answers about the margin call and market activity connected to Archegos,” according to a letter to the firms released Thursday by the Ohio Democrat. Brown compared the forced sales by Hwang’s family office to Long-Term Capital Management and other episodes that destabilized markets and said they show the threat to investors “when excessive leverage is combined with careless risk taking,” according to the letter. While Brown didn’t ask the firms to testify, his effort may signal that lawmakers could hold hearings on the matter. “I am troubled, but not surprised, by the news reports that Archegos entered into risky derivatives transactions facilitated by major investment banks, resulting in panicked selling of stocks worth tens of billions of dollars and those banks collectively losing nearly $10 billion,” Brown wrote. Brown said he wanted details on regulatory requirements for family offices, how they are evaluated as prospective clients and what collateral is maintained. The senator also asked for supervisor or risk committee approvals for Archegos as well as any “consideration of the 2012 agreement to criminal wire fraud by Tiger Asia Management LLC, Mr. Hwang’s prior firm.”

Senate Banking Chair Sherrod Brown Sends Letters to Wall Street Banks on the Archegos Blowup and Opens a Big Can of Worms, Including Antitrust Issues --Pam Martens  --Yesterday, Senator Sherrod Brown, the Chair of the Senate Banking Committee, released the content of letters he had sent to Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse and Nomura regarding their interactions with Archegos Capital Management. Archegos is the hedge fund styled as a “family office,” that is making headlines around the world for blowing itself up within a week’s time while inflicting billions of dollars of losses on what are supposed to be heavily supervised global banks.The letters to Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Nomura were addressed to their CEOs while the letter to Credit Suisse went to its General Counsel. All four of the letters contained the same ten questions, with only minor variations. Questions five, six and seven of Brown’s letter open some very thorny subjects that could have serious legal ramifications for the banks involved.Question five asks this:“Identify the broker-dealer, bank, and other entities, directly or indirectly, involved in transactions with Archegos and that participated in the margin call and resulting stock sales.”This question is going to produce beads of sweat on brows across Wall Street. The trading accounts that at least some of the banks arranged for Archegos were structured as derivative contracts where Archegos was able to obtain leverage of more than 6 times the cash it was putting up as collateral. The contract allowed the banks to claim they owned the stocks despite the fact that Archegos selected the stocks, directed the trading in the accounts and got the upside as well as the downside in the account. In exchange, the bank collected fees.By asking whether this trading was occurring at the broker-dealer subsidiary or the federally-insured banking unit of the financial institution, the Senate Banking Committee can quickly zero in on what laws may have been violated and whether the safety and soundness of a federally-insured bank was put at risk with 6 to 1 leverage provided to a hedge fund run by Sung Kook (Bill) Hwang, who was previously charged by the SECwith insider trading and stock price manipulations.  Question six gets into the highly debatable question as to whether the banks could legally shift the ownership of this account (“economic interest”) back and forth between itself and Archegos like a ping pong ball. It asks this:“Describe any policies or procedures relevant to the entities in item 5 that address providing to U.S. based entities total return swaps or similar transactions referencing publicly traded stocks that provide an economic interest that would be subject to regulatory reporting with the SEC or other regulators if the referenced stocks were directly held.”According to reporting in the New York Times, one of the stocks held by Hwang’s Archegos was “$20 billion in shares of ViacomCBS, effectively making him the media company’s single largest institutional shareholder. But few knew about his total exposure, since the shares were mostly held through complex financial instruments, called derivatives, created by the banks.”If the New York Times report is correct, by the middle of last month Archegos held approximately 208 million shares of ViacomCBS, or a stunning 34 percent of its total outstanding shares. But because the global banks were claiming technical ownership of the shares for reporting purposes, Archegos was able to avoid making SEC filings that would have alerted both public investors and ViacomCBS itself that a hedge fund had acquired this huge stake.

Big $40 million options trade bets on near-term stock market tumble (Reuters) - A massive trade in the U.S. options market on Thursday appears to be betting that the calm enveloping U.S. stocks in recent weeks will give way to a big rise in volatility over the next three months. One or more traders laid out a roughly $40 million bet that the Cboe Volatility Index - often called Wall Street’s fear gauge - will break above the 25 level and rise towards 40 by mid-July, trading data showed Thursday. The VIX closed at 16.95 on Thursday, its lowest close since February 20, 2020, just before the coronavirus pandemic spooked investors and roiled global financial markets.Some 200,000 of the VIX July 25 - 40 call spread traded over the course of two hours on Thursday, starting at 10 a.m. The trades made up about a third of the average daily trading volume in VIX options, according to Trade Alert. The trades involved the purchase of the spread’s lower strike calls for an average price of about $3.37, partly funded through the sale of the higher strike calls at about $1.30 per contract. For the trade to be profitable, the VIX would need to rise above 25 by mid-July. Given that big rallies in the options-based index tend to come during turbulent periods for stocks, the trade could represent a bearish outlook for equities.

CFPB moves to delay implementation of debt collection rules - The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Wednesday proposed postponing implementation of two new Fair Debt Collection Practices Act rules governing borrower communication, which currently have a Nov. 30 start date.One rule delineates what constitutes harassment, false representation and unfair practices by debt collectors. The other clarifies the disclosures collectors must provide to consumers regarding communication with credit reporting agencies and prohibits collectors from threatening to sue borrowers with time-barred debt.The delay would mean that third-party mortgage servicing entities and others governed by the FDCPA will not be able to use the new safe harbors for compliance until Jan. 29, 2022. The proposal has a 30-day comment period.Acting CFPB Director Dave Uejio had previously signaled that he might delay the rules to reconsider them, but the current proposal suggests only that the bureau wants to give affected parties more time to comply due to the pandemic.The proposed delay comes a day after the CFPB issued a consent order against a debt collector, Yorba Linda Capital Management, for allegedly harassing thousands of consumers by falsely threatening them with legal action.“Debt collectors often run afoul of consumer law when they coerce customers to pay them by exaggerating the consequences of not paying,” Uejio said in a press release issued Tuesday.He called the action, “a reminder that debt collectors must stick to the truth when communicating with customers.”In the consent order, the CFPB calls upon the debt collector to pay a civil money payment of $2,200 to the bureau and seeks monetary relief and damages totaling $860,000.However, full payment of the relief has been suspended since respondents claim they currently have an inability to pay, according to the consent order.

6 things banks, community groups want in next phase of CRA reform — Biden administration regulators are widely expected to abandon last year’s much-criticized rule from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency modernizing the Community Reinvestment Act, and effectively start over on CRA reform. But even though regulators such as the Federal Reserve have pinpointed aspects of the OCC’s approach that they oppose, the rule also contained several uncontroversial measures with wide support that could help serve as a foundation for a joint CRA framework backed by all the banking agencies. Community groups and their allies in Congress objected to how CRA investment in low- to moderate-income communities across the country would be scored and incentivized under the CRA rule. For their part, banks objected to substantial new data and recordkeeping requirements that would be used to make the OCC framework work and urged the agencies to harmonize their different approaches. Since September, policy analysts have largely shifted their attention to the Fed’s plans for CRA reform after the central bank published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking outlining an alternative approach. But the Fed’s plan is also somewhat complementary to what the OCC finalized. Before the Fed issues a more formal proposal, regulators have to sort through roughly 600 public comments on the ANPR. While the general reception of the Fed’s plan seems warmer than the reactions to the OCC rule, many commenters pointed to some notable elements of the OCC approach that they want to see preserved in a new rulemaking process. Here are six features that many if not all stakeholders want to see in a final CRA rulemaking approved by the agencies.

  • — Biden administration regulators are widely expected to abandon last year’s much-criticized rule from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency modernizing the Community Reinvestment Act, and effectively start over on CRA reform.
  • But even though regulators such as the Federal Reserve have pinpointed aspects of the OCC’s approach that they oppose, the rule also contained several uncontroversial measures with wide support that could help serve as a foundation for a joint CRA framework backed by all the banking agencies.
  • Community groups and their allies in Congress objected to how CRA investment in low- to moderate-income communities across the country would be scored and incentivized under the CRA rule. For their part, banks objected to substantial new data and recordkeeping requirements that would be used to make the OCC framework work and urged the agencies to harmonize their different approaches.
  • Since September, policy analysts have largely shifted their attention to the Fed’s plans for CRA reform after the central bank published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking outlining an alternative approach. But the Fed’s plan is also somewhat complementary to what the OCC finalized.
  • Before the Fed issues a more formal proposal, regulators have to sort through roughly 600 public comments on the ANPR. While the general reception of the Fed’s plan seems warmer than the reactions to the OCC rule, many commenters pointed to some notable elements of the OCC approach that they want to see preserved in a new rulemaking process.
  • Here are six features that many if not all stakeholders want to see in a final CRA rulemaking approved by the agencies.

CFPB tries to stave off COVID-19 foreclosure surge — The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau proposed new steps Monday intended to avert a wave of foreclosures resulting from borrowers exiting their mortgage forbearance plans. The deadline for borrowers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic to request or extend a forbearance plan is June 30, which is also the end of a foreclosure moratorium on federally backed mortgages. As a result, analysts expect a potential surge of delinquencies in the fall. CFPB officials note that many of the borrowers currently in forbearance are more than 120 days late on their payments. Under the new proposal, a lender or servicer could not immediately foreclose on a home once the forbearance period ends. The set of rule changes would institute a “special pre-foreclosure review period” that would generally block most servicers from initiating foreclosure proceedings until after Dec. 31. Servicers could offer simplified loan modification options to borrowers experiencing pandemic-related hardship.  Agency officials told reporters in a call that the impending end of many forbearance plans could put pressure on servicers trying to respond to the situation. “We are at really an unusual point in history. I don’t think anybody has ever before seen this many mortgages in forbearance at one time that are expected to exit forbearance all at one time," said Diane Thompson, a senior adviser to acting CFPB Director Dave Uejio. "This could put an enormous strain on servicer capacity.” The proposed changes would apply to the entire mortgage market, senior CFPB officials said, and not just federally backed loans that have been subject to a foreclosure moratorium since last year. “Our proposal would give struggling homeowners a critical lifeline while also ensuring mortgage servicers can do their work effectively," Uejio said in the call with reporters. "Foreclosures can be devastating for homeowners, they lower property values in surrounding neighborhoods and they are expensive for servicers and investors alike. We are going to use everything in our toolbox to prevent avoidable foreclosures.” If a loan modification were to include payment deferrals, servicers would not be able to charge any fees or accrue any interest on those payments, the CFPB said. Late fees and “stop payment fees” would also be waived. At the end of a forbearance period, the proposal requires servicers to inform borrowers if they can extend their forbearance plan again and to detail to them their loss mitigation options. If finalized, those provisions would be in effect until Aug. 31, 2022. Mortgage servicers dealing with less than 5,000 loans would generally be exempt from the rule.

Black Knight Mortgage Monitor for February - Black Knight released their Mortgage Monitor report for February today. According to Black Knight, 6.00% of mortgages were delinquent in February, up from 5.85% of mortgages in January, and up from 3.28% in February 2020. Black Knight also reported that 0.32% of mortgages were in the foreclosure process, down from 0.45% a year ago.This gives a total of 6.32% delinquent or in foreclosure. Press Release: White-Hot Housing Market and Rising Rates Push Affordability Back to 5-Year Average; Low New Listing Volumes Further Constraining Inventory Today, the Data & Analytics division of Black Knight, Inc. released its latest Mortgage Monitor Report, based upon the company’s industry-leading mortgage, real estate and public records datasets. This month, with the U.S. housing market remaining extremely hot by any historical measure, the report looks at home price appreciation over the past year and how that’s impacted affordability. “Our repeat sales-based Black Knight Home Price Index shows February’s annual price appreciation at 11.6%, the fastest growth rate in more than 15 years,” said Graboske. “Likewise, the daily home sales data tracked by our Collateral Analytics group found a nearly 16% year-over-year increase in the median sales price in February. Multiple years of constrained housing inventory and historically low interest rates have helped fuel this fire to the point where nearly 75% of the 100 largest U.S. markets have seen annual home price growth of 10% or higher. What’s more, Collateral Analytics’ Market Conditions Report shows the housing markets in 75% of ZIP codes rated either ‘Strong’ or ‘Hot’ based on underlying market metrics. Only 7% are characterized as ‘Normal.’  Housing is now the least affordable it’s been – factoring in interest rates, home prices and income – since mid-2019. Any hopes of 2021 bringing an influx of homes to the market and lessening pressure on prices appear to be dashed for now, as new for-sale listings were down 16% and 21% year-over-year in January and February, respectively. Here is a graph from the Mortgage Monitor that shows Active Inventory and New Listings. From Black Knight:

• Entering 2021, the number of homes listed for sale was down 32% year-over-year and had fallen to its lowest level on record, according to Black Knight’s Collateral Analytics division
• The hopes that early 2021 would bring much-needed inflow of inventory to a market starved for supply have been dashed so far, with new listing volumes coming in well below pre-pandemic levels
• In fact, the number of homes listed for sale in January was down 16% from the year prior, while new listings in February were down 21%
• Rather than an influx, we now have 125K fewer listings than over the first two months of 2020 and are trending in the wrong direction with inventory down 40% year-over-year • After eight consecutive months of improvement, the national mortgage delinquency rate rose in February from 5.85% to 6.0%
• Delinquency rate increases were seen broadly across portfolios, geographies and asset classes
• Despite the rise, 30-day delinquencies remain 19% below pre-pandemic levels, while there are still 5X (+1.7M) as many 90-day delinquencies as there were in February 2020

There is much more in the mortgage monitor

MBA Survey: "Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Decreases to 4.90%" -  Note: This is as of March 28th. From the MBA: Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Decreases to 4.90%: 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 4.96% of servicers’ portfolio volume in the prior week to 4.90% as of March 28, 2021. According to MBA’s estimate, 2.5 million homeowners are in forbearance plans.... “The share of loans in forbearance decreased for the fifth straight week, and new forbearance requests dropped to their lowest level since March 2020. The share of loans in forbearance also decreased for all three investor categories,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “More than 21 percent of borrowers in forbearance extensions have now exceeded the 12-month mark. Of those that exited forbearance in March, more than 21 percent received a modification, indicating that their income had declined and they could not afford their original mortgage payment.” Fratantoni added, “March was a turning point for the economy, with hiring shifting into a higher gear and the unemployment rate continuing to decline. However, there are still more than 4.2 million people who have been actively looking for work for more than six months. Homeowners who are still facing hardships and need to extend their forbearance term should contact their servicer.” This graph shows the percent of portfolio in forbearance by investor type over time.  Most of the increase was in late March and early April, and has trended down since then. The MBA notes: "Total weekly forbearance requests as a percent of servicing portfolio volume (#) decreased relative to the prior week: from 0.05% to 0.04%, the lowest level since the week ending March 15, 2020."

Black Knight: Number of Homeowners in COVID-19-Related Forbearance Plans Decreased -- This data is as of April 6th. From Black Knight: U.S. Sees Largest Weekly Forbearance Decline in Six Months: We continue to see great improvements in forbearance plan numbers, with this week showingthe largest weekly decline in six months. The number of outstanding forbearances fell by 228,000 (-9.0%), largely driven by early forbearance entrants exiting their plans at or around the 12-month mark. Significant improvements were seen across investor classes, with decline of 94,000 in FHA/VA plans, a 69,000 decline in GSE forbearances and portfolio/PLS plan volumes declining by 65,000 this week alone. Overall, an estimated 280,000 borrowers exited forbearance this week, representing more than half of all loans being reviewed for extension and removal. Forbearance plan starts also continue to improve, with an estimated 158,000 such starts (including re-starts) over the past four weeks, down 18 percent from the preceding four-week period. All in, some 2.3 million borrowers remain in forbearance as of April 6, representing 4.4% of all outstanding first-lien mortgage holders. With an estimated 500,000 additional forbearance plans with scheduled expirations at the end of April, we could see additional improvements near the end of this month and into early May. We’ll keep an eye on the numbers and have another report on Friday, April 16. The number of loans in forbearance continues to decline.

 Despite Federal Moratorium, Increasing Number of Texas Renters Face Eviction as State Protection Expires --Texans behind on their rent are at increasing risk of losing their homes despite a federal moratorium on evictions, according to housing attorneys, because a Texas Supreme Court order aimed at forestalling evictions has expired.The nationwide order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention halting evictions through June 30 — originally issued under the Trump administration — has been an important bulwark against a housing crisis as people lost jobs and income during the pandemic, housing advocates say.But an emergency order issued by the Texas Supreme Court that instructed judges across Texas how to follow the federal mandate expired March 31.Without the explicit backup of the moratorium from the state’s highest civil court, Texas landlords could resume pursuing evictions of people affected by the pandemic, housing advocates said, and it could fall to the federal government to enforce the CDC order.“A lot of people have been saying for the last year that this eviction wave is coming and that we are about to step off this cliff into the abyss. With this latest news, we just stepped off that cliff. This is the worst case scenario,” said Mark Melton, an attorney who has helped hundreds of Dallas-area tenants during the pandemic. “This basically says that if a landlord wants to risk federal prosecution, that’s their business, not our problem. And if they want the eviction we have to grant it under state law.”The Texas Justice Court Training Center, which trains judges and issues procedural guidance, has updated its eviction-related guidelines to say that Texas courts can proceed with eviction cases, although “the landlord might choose to place this case on hold.”“This just means that the courts in Texas would follow Texas procedure in law, which doesn’t have anything in it about the CDC moratorium. Now there could be local laws that would maybe have a moratorium,” said Theadora Wallen, the training center’s executive director.To be protected by the CDC order, renters must sign a declaration stating they risk homelessness due to effects of the pandemic, among other requirements. The CDC order subjects violators to fines up to $100,000 and a year in jail. The penalties are steeper if violating the order results in death. Until March 31, justices of the peace in Texas played a key role enforcing it, halting eviction proceedings they believed violated the CDC order. Now it will be up to individual judges to decide whether to follow the federal orders. Meanwhile, a Texas program meant to financially help renters who have fallen behind has barely taken root.

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 April 2, 2021.  ... The Refinance Index decreased 5 percent from the previous week and was 20 percent lower than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 5 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 4 percent compared with the previous week and was 51 percent higher than the same week one year ago. “Mortgage rates resumed their upward move last week, with the 30-year fixed rate at 3.36 percent. The return of rates to the highest level since last June contributed to a slowdown in applications for both purchases and refinances. The rapidly recovering economy and improving job market is generating sizeable home buying demand, but activity in recent weeks is constrained by quicker home-price growth and extremely low inventory,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting.  “Refinance applications declined for the fifth straight week, but there was a gain in VA loan activity. Overall, refinance demand has decreased, with volume over the past 10 weeks down by more than 30 percent.” ... The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($548,250 or less) increased to 3.36 percent from 3.33 percent, with points increasing to 0.43 from 0.39 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The first graph shows the refinance index since 1990.   With low rates, the index remains elevated, but falling as rates rise.  The second graph shows the MBA mortgage purchase index According to the MBA, purchase activity is up 51% year-over-year unadjusted.

Top mortgage lenders of 2020, according to early HMDA analyses - Overall, 2020 was a record year for the housing finance industry, but not everyone reaped the same gains from it, early analyses of Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data show. Nonbanks claimed more market share, and annual origination gains for Hispanic, Black and Native American borrowers were weaker than for other groups, according to first-takes on HMDA data by ComplianceTech, Polygon Research and RiskExec. Given that newly public nonbanks were eager to show shareholders growth as banks became more conservative with credit amid the pandemic, nondepositories took four out of the top five slots for single-family lenders last year, as compared to just three in 2019. That development could redouble calls for more safety-and-soundness measures for nonbanks from the banking industry, which is concerned about how the growing presence of less-regulated nondepositories could affect the broader financial system.  “Nonbanks are growing, and that is cause for concern by banking trade associations,” said Anurag Agarwal, founder, president and chief architect of RiskExec.  And with early HMDA data also suggesting inequities persist, there could be more policy making toward this end as well. The proposal to extend a version of the Community Reinvestment Act to nonbanks may address both issues, Agarwal said. The CRA requires banks to lend equitably in communities where they take deposits. Since nonbanks don’t take deposits, there have been questions about how it could be adapted to their business models, but that may be something policymakers could explore further, he added. To be sure, the HMDA data available to date is preliminary and has its limitations given that some smaller companies are exempt from the reporting, but generally it’s broadly considered to be a reliable industry benchmark. What follows are more specific data points and other first-takes on 2020’s HMDA numbers from experts currently analyzing them.

Brief Discussion: The Impact of Rising Mortgage Rates on Home Sales and House Prices -CR Note: There is quite a bit of information (and charts) in this article by Matthew Graham at MortgageNewsDaily: Who's Lying About The Housing Market?. Here are a few excerpts on the impact of mortgage rates on home sales and house prices. The inventory situation may mean that prices remain more resilient in the current housing cycle despite the recent surge in interest rates. Even then, past examples of rate spikes have only had moderate impacts on housing. Using the same home sales data from above, let's highlight previous rate spikes so we can see the impact...  There was a big rate spike at the end of 2016 that had no discernible effect on prices. This is notable because that rate spike was fueled by economic optimism as opposed to 2013's rate spike which happened after the Fed said they would begin decreasing their rate-friendly bond buying program. 2018 was somewhat similar as the Fed was continuing to tighten monetary policy and raise short term interest rates. A case could be made that the current rate spike shares some similarities with 2016. The path of 10yr Treasury yields (a benchmark for longer term rates like mortgages) has largely traced pandemic progress and economic recovery hopes. Yields (aka rates) began rising late last summer as vaccine trials showed promising results and economic data began to improve.Bottom line, it is a rising rate environment until further notice. If we don't see a negative turn of events for the economy, rates will eventually run out of steam for other reasons. But that could take time, and the overall rate spike could rival the worst past examples by the time it fully runs its course.CR Note: There is much more in the article. As Graham notes, inventory is the key,

CoreLogic: House Prices up 10.4% Year-over-year in February -- The CoreLogic HPI is a three month weighted average and is not seasonally adjusted (NSA). From CoreLogic: Market Forces at Work: Supply Constraints and Buyer Demand Pushes US Home Price Annual Appreciation to 15-Year High in February, CoreLogic Reports:  Home prices continued to increase in February, reaching the highest annual gain since April 2006, as demand continues to clash with historically low supply. These factors have created increased affordability challenges, especially as mortgage rates also begin to rise.CoreLogic analysis also shows homebuyers have steadily moved away from densely populated, high-cost coastal areas in favor of more affordable suburban locales. The number of homebuyers in the top 10 metros with the largest net out-migration — including West Coast metros like Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose — who chose to move to another metro increased by 3 percentage points in 2020 to 21% from 2019. This sentiment is reflected in CoreLogic’s recent consumer survey, which found that 57% of current non-homeowners on the West Coast feel the home options in their area are not at all affordable.“Homebuyers are experiencing the most competitive housing market we’ve seen since the Great Recession,”  “Rising mortgage rates and severe supply constraints are pushing already-overheated home prices out of reach for some prospective buyers, especially in more expensive metro areas. As affordability challenges persist, we may see more potential homebuyers priced out of the market and a possible slowing of price growth on the horizon.” ... Nationally, home prices increased 10.4% in February 2021, compared with February 2020. On a month-over-month basis, home prices increased by 1.2% compared to January 2021.

This Start-Up Is Recycling Abandoned Wooden Homes in Baltimore --An initiative in the US city of Baltimore wants to salvage and reuse as much wood as possible, while also creating jobs.The Baltimore Wood Project works with partners such as the US Forest Service to rethink and reclaim wood in the city in order to reduce landfill waste, rejuvenate disused land and engage local communities.The pilot project salvages wood from abandoned buildings and urban trees before repurposing it and reselling it locally, thereby creating a closed-loop system or circular economy which has a host of environmental, economic and social benefits.​Wood accounts for more than 10% of the annual waste material in the US and, in some years, more tree and woody residue has been generated from urban areas than was harvested from national forests, according to the US Forest Service. This waste is costly for businesses that have to pay for its collection and disposal.Post-industrial Baltimore is a particularly relevant base for the scheme, as it is estimated that there are 16,000 empty properties, with some 4,000 of them marked for demolition. Some estimates even put the number ofvacant lots in the city at well over 40,000.By reclaiming both freshly-cut wood and that from abandoned properties, the Baltimore Wood Project can reduce waste; provide green materials for construction, furniture making and other sectors; and help restore and reclaim neighborhoods.In addition to its obvious environmental benefits, the project also has valuable economic and social advantages. With a population of nearly 600,000, Baltimore has an unemployment rate of 8.5%, compared to a nationwide rate of 6.2%.The Baltimore Wood Project helps tackle the city's joblessness problem by focusing on deconstruction rather than demolition, arguing that the former creates six to eight more jobs than the latter. This enables those with barriers to employment to gain a valuable skill set and eventually a career, and also helps revitalize the neighborhoods in which they live.

Hotels: Occupancy Rate Down 16% Compared to Same Week in 2019 - Note: The year-over-year occupancy comparisons are easy, since occupancy declined sharply at the onset of the pandemic. However, occupancy is still down significantly from normal levels. The occupancy rate is down 16% compared to the same week in 2019.From CoStar: STR: US Hotel Occupancy Flat From Prior Week U.S. hotel occupancy remained flat from the previous week, while the country’s ADR and RevPAR levels were its highest since the beginning of March 2020, according to STR‘s latest weekly data through April 3, 2021. March 28 through April 3, 2021:
• Occupancy: 57.9%
• Average daily rate (ADR): US$112.76
• Revenue per available room (RevPAR): US$65.33
The occupancy level was 1 point below the pandemic peak reached two weeks prior. The RevPAR value represented 73.1% of the comparable 2019 level, which is the closest the U.S. has come to RevPAR recovery territory in STR’s Market Recovery Monitor. 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).  Occupancy has increased to 2009 levels - and 2009 was horrible for hotels.

U.S. consumer credit surges by the most since late 2017 - U.S. consumer borrowing surged in February by the most since late 2017 as a broader reopening of the economy from pandemic restrictions helped spark an increase in credit card balances. Total credit jumped $27.6 billion from the prior month, the largest gain since November 2017, after a revised $94 million January gain, Federal Reserve figures showed Wednesday. On an annualized basis, borrowing rose 7.9% in February. The gain in February credit exceeded all estimates in a Bloomberg survey of economists. Revolving credit climbed $8.1 billion, the most since December 2019 and only the second advance in a year. Nonrevolving credit, which includes auto and school loans, rose $19.5 billion, the biggest increase since June. Lending by the federal government, which is mainly for student loans, increased $5.7 billion before seasonal adjustment. The overall improvement in borrowing highlights a consumer that is growing more confident as the economy accelerates, job growth picks up and more states lift burdensome restrictions.

 Trade deficit rises to record $71.1 billion in February - The U.S. trade deficit rose to its highest monthly level on record in February, hitting $71.1 billion, a 4.8 percent from the previous record set in January. While trade activity was generally lower than in the previous month, the level of exports fell nearly three times as much as the level of imports.The figures for 2021 thus far are a whopping 68.6 percent higher than the first two months of last year, before the pandemic took hold.  In some regards, the deficit is a sign of the relative strength of the U.S. economy, where strong fiscal stimulus has boosted demand for goods and services above levels seen overseas.The data represent a bitter legacy for former President Donald Trump, who railed against the trade deficit in his 2016 campaign for the presidency, and started a slew of trade wars to renegotiate the terms of trade between America and its trading partners.Biden's trade representative Katherine Tai has signaled that she will keep many of the tariffs in place until negotiated settlements can be reached with trade partners, though the administration has already de-escalatedtensions and suspended some barriers with Europe and the United Kingdom.Economists say that trade deficits are not inherently bad for the economy, but can be a sign of global imbalances or stalling economic productivity. They have also become a political talking point in recent years, which could raise pressure on the Biden administration to enact policies that would rein in the trade deficit.

Trade Deficit Increased to $71.1 Billion in February - From the Department of Commerce reported:The U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis announced today that the goods and services deficit was $71.1 billion in February, up $3.3 billion from $67.8 billion in January, revised.February exports were $187.3 billion, $5.0 billion less than January exports. February imports were $258.3 billion, $1.7 billion less than January imports. Both exports and imports decreased in February.Exports are down 10.0% compared to February 2020; imports are up 5.0% compared to February 2020.  Both imports and exports decreased sharply due to COVID-19, and have now bounced back (imports much more than exports), The second graph shows the U.S. trade deficit, with and without petroleum.The blue line is the total deficit, and the black line is the petroleum deficit, and the red line is the trade deficit ex-petroleum products.Note that net, imports and exports of petroleum products are close to zero.The trade deficit with China increased to $24.6 billion in February, from $16.0 billion in February 2020.

America’s Imports Are Stuck on Ships Floating Just Off Los Angeles – WSJ -- The giant container ship that blocked the Suez Canal for six days was freed Monday, but another bottleneck in the supply chain remains, this one in Southern California.On Monday morning, 24 container ships—with a combined maximum carrying capacity nearly 10 times that of the newly freed ship—were anchored off the coast waiting for space at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California, which keeps tabs on vessels and directs ship traffic.The ships are carrying tens of thousands of boxes holding millions of dollars’ worth of washing machines, medical equipment, consumer electronics and other of the goods that make up global ocean trade, all of it idling in the waters in sight of docks that are jammed with still more containers.One was on its 12th day of waiting in the seemingly unending queue. And the vessels keep coming.Backups started building late last year as retailers and manufacturers tried to rebuild inventories that were depleted in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.A stark difference can be seen comparing the movements of container ships around the ports in February of 2020 with February 2021, according to location data from shipping tracker Marine Traffic. In February 2020 there is steady access to the docks with ships rarely anchoring offshore: The two ports together handle more than a third of U.S. container imports, and delays there are part of a global supply-chain mess that continues even after the ships are unloaded. In January, more than a quarter of imported containers at those gateways had to wait more than five days for handling once they reached the dock, according to the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association. In June 2020, before the logjam, about 2% had to wait that long. U.S. imports from international trading partners picked up as coronavirus restrictions eased and demand rebounded in the summer of 2020. The U.S. imported a record $219.86 billion in goods in January of this year on a seasonally adjusted basis, about 9% higher than a year earlier.The number of container ships at a berth loading or discharging containers fluctuated between roughly 10 and 20 throughout 2019 and into 2020, which is normal, according to Capt. Louttit. It fluctuated between roughly 20 and 30 from late 2020 into March of this year. “The ports are setting records moving cargo,” he said.The sudden uptick in shipments last year after a lull in the spring and summer “shocked and choked the goods movement system,” Capt. Louttit said. The extra ships arrived when the system was operating at reduced capacity and efficiency, a bottleneck partly due to transportation and logistics personnel being off the job because of Covid-19 infections and exposure, he said.The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach continue to work through the backlog as the number of ships arriving continues to rise. In February of this year, 177 container ships and more than 800,000 containers (in 20-foot equivalent units, or TEUs) arrived at the ports. That’s 31% more ships and 49% more containers than the same month last year.

AAR: March Rail Carloads up 4.1% YoY, Intermodal Up 24.0% YoY - From the Association of American Railroads (AAR) Rail Time Indicators.  When the pandemic first began around mid-March 2020, firms across the country and across industries shut down or drastically reduced operations, leading to sharply lower volumes for many rail traffic categories. A year later, rail traffic has rebounded, leading to year-over-year volume percentage gains that in some cases reflect easier comparisons more than underlying market factors.March’s rail traffic numbers are impacted by the easier comparisons. Total U.S. carloads were up 4.1% in March 2021 over March 2020, their first year-over-year monthly gain since January 2019. Total carloads in the last two weeks of March were up 7.3% over the comparable weeks of 2020.For intermodal, U.S. volume in March 2021 was up 24.0% over March 2020. That’s the biggest monthly gain ever for intermodal; it includes a 28% increase in the last two weeks of March. March’s intermodal gains are not solely a function of easy comparisons, though: March 2021 was the highest volume March ever for intermodal and the sixth-best intermodal month overal This graph from the Rail Time Indicators report shows the six week average of U.S. Carloads in 2019, 2020 and 2021: Total carloads averaged 231,232 in March 2021. That’s a higher weekly average than March 2020, but otherwise it’s the lowest weekly average for any March since 1988, when our data begin. For the first three months of 2021, total U.S. rail carloads were 2.6% (77,267 carloads) lower than they were in the first three months of 2020.The second graph shows the six week average of U.S. intermodal in 2019, 2020 and 2021: (using intermodal or shipping containers):  U.S. intermodal originations totaled 1.43 million in March 2021, up 24.0%, or 276,781 containers and trailers, over March 2020 and up 8.0% over March 2019. March 2021 marks the eighth-straight year-over-year gain for intermodal following 18 straight declines.Note that rail traffic was weak prior to the pandemic, however intermodal has come back strong.

ISM® Services Index increased to "all-time high of 63.7%" in March  The March ISM® Services index was at 55.3%, up from 55.3% last month. The employment index increased to 57.2%, from 52.7%. Note: Above 50 indicates expansion, below 50 contraction. From the Institute for Supply Management: March 2021 Services ISM® Report On Business® The Services PMI® registered an all-time high of 63.7 percent, 8.4 percentage points higher than the February reading of 55.3 percent. The previous high was in October 2018, when the Services PMI® registered 60.9 percent. The March reading indicates the 10th straight month of growth for the services sector, which has expanded for all but two of the last 134 months.”Nieves continues, “For further historical context, the Services PMI® debuted as the Non-Manufacturing NMI® in 2008, although subindex data was collected for years in advance. In August 1997, the four subindexes — Business Activity, New Orders, Employment and Supplier Deliveries — that make up the Services PMI® would have calculated a composite-index reading of 62 percent.“The Supplier Deliveries Index registered 61 percent, up 0.2 percentage point from February’s reading of 60.8 percent. (Supplier Deliveries is the only ISM® Report On Business® index that is inversed; a reading of above 50 percent indicates slower deliveries, which is typical as the economy improves and customer demand increases.) “The Prices Index figure of 74 percent is 2.2 percentage points higher than the February reading of 71.8 percent, indicating that prices increased in March, and at a faster rate. According to the Services PMI®, all 18 services industries reported growth. The composite index indicated growth for the 10th consecutive month after a two-month contraction in April and May. There was a substantial increase in the rate of growth in the services sector in March. Respondents’ comments indicate that the lifting of coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic-related restrictions has released pent-up demand for many of their respective companies’ services. Production-capacity constraints, material shortages, weather and challenges in logistics and human resources continue to cause supply chain disruption,” says Nieves. The employment index increased to 57.2% from 52.7% in February.

March Markit Services PMI: "Fastest rise in business activity since July 2014 as new order growth reaches six-year high" The March US Services Purchasing Managers' Index conducted by Markit came in at 59.7 percent, down 0.1 from the final February estimate of 59.8.Here is the opening from the latest press release:Commenting on the latest survey results, Chris Williamson, Chief Business Economist at IHS Markit, said:"The recent surge in service sector growth shows no sign of abating, with another impressive performance in March rounding off a quarter in which the PMI surveys indicate that the economy grew at an annualized rate of approximately 5%.“While consumer demand is rising especially strongly for goods, the surveys are now also showing rising activity in the consumer services sector, linked to the vaccine roll-out, looser virus containment measures and the fresh injection of stimulus in March. Financial services growth is also booming, in part reflecting buoyant housing and equity markets, and business spending on services is likewise picking up as firms look ahead to better times, resulting in a very broad-based and powerful looking upturn in the economy.“High levels of new business inflows, rising business confidence and an increasing appetite to hire new staff suggest the economy will also see a strong second quarter, especially if the vaccine roll-out continues apace“The biggest concern is inflation, with price gauges hitting new survey highs in March as demand often exceeded supply for a wide variety of goods and services.” [Press Release]Here is a snapshot of the series since mid-2012.

U.S. factories desperate for workers, even as ranks of jobless remains high (Reuters) - . U.S. manufacturers have long grumbled about labor shortages, but the past year has proven particularly frustrating. As the pandemic pushed millions out of work, most from service industries such as hotels and restaurants, many factories were pushed into overdrive by surging demand for everything from pickup trucks to plastic bags. And yet high jobless rates have not translated into workers flocking to open positions on assembly lines. On Friday, the Labor Department said 916,000 jobs were created last month, the most since last August, including 53,000 manufacturing positions. That was the highest number of new factory jobs in six months. The report’s manufacturing diffusion index, a measure of the breadth of hiring across some 75 goods-producing industries, registered one of its highest readings ever. Manufacturing employment suffered a much less severe blow than service sector jobs last spring when COVID-19 first brought the economy effectively to a standstill. About one of every 10 factory jobs were eliminated in the shutdowns versus roughly one of every six service jobs. Factory employment is 4% below pre-pandemic levels, a deficit of 515,000 jobs, versus 5.5% for overall U.S. employment, with a total shortfall from February 2020 of 8.4 million positions. Other indicators also point to a tight labor market at factories. Earlier this week, the Institute for Supply Management said its index for national factory activity jumped to its highest reading in 37 years in March, with its gauge of manufacturing employment rising to its highest level since February 2018. One fabricated metal company quoted in the report said, “A lack of qualified machine and fabrication shop talent” has made it hard to keep up with demand.

 Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims increased to 744,000 --The DOL reported:In the week ending April 3, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 744,000, an increase of 16,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 9,000 from 719,000 to 728,000. The 4-week moving average was 723,750, an increase of 2,500 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 2,250 from 719,000 to 721,250. This does not include the 151,752 initial claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) that was down from 237,065 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 increased to 723,750.The previous week was revised up.Regular state continued claims decreased to 4,067,784 (SA) from 4,200,238 (SA) the previous week.Note: There are an additional 7,553,628 receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) that increased from 7,350,339 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 5,633,595 receiving Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) up from 5,516,487.Weekly claims were higher than the consensus forecast.

 SF Fed: Weather Increased March Employment by About 100 Thousand Every month, the San Francisco Fed estimates Weather-Adjusted Change in Total Nonfarm Employment (monthly change, seasonally adjusted). They use local area weather to estimate the impact on employment.  The BLS reported 916 thousand jobs were added in March.  The San Francisco Fed estimates that weather adjusted employment gains were 812 thousand; about 100 thousand lower than the BLS reported.  This reverses the impact of weather on the February report, and was expected.  This was especially evident in construction were there were 56 thousand construction jobs lost in February, and 110 thousand construction jobs added in March.  This table from Daniel Wilson at the SF Fed shows the BLS reported job gains for the last 6 months, and two estimates of the impact of weather.

BLS: Job Openings Increased to 7.4 Million in February --From the BLS: Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary: The number of job openings edged up to 7.4 million on the last business day of February, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Hires also edged up to 5.7 million while total separations were little changed at 5.5 million. Within separations, the quits rate and layoffs and discharges rate were unchanged at 2.3 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively. The following graph shows job openings (yellow line), hires (dark blue), Layoff, Discharges and other (red column), and Quits (light blue column) from the JOLTS. This series started in December 2000. Note: The difference between JOLTS hires and separations is similar to the CES (payroll survey) net jobs headline numbers. This report is for February, the most recent employment report was for March. Note that hires (dark blue) and total separations (red and light blue columns stacked) are usually pretty close each month. This is a measure of labor market turnover.  When the blue line is above the two stacked columns, the economy is adding net jobs - when it is below the columns, the economy is losing jobs. The huge spikes in layoffs and discharges in March and April 2020 are labeled, but off the chart to better show the usual data. Jobs openings increased in February to 7.367 million from 7.099 million in January.  This is close to the series maximum of 7.574 million. The number of job openings (yellow) were up 5.1% year-over-year.  Note that job openings were declining a year ago prior to the pandemic. Quits were down 2.1% year-over-year. These are voluntary separations. (see light blue columns at bottom of graph for trend for "quits").

Job openings and hires ticked up in February - EPI Blog by Elise Gould - Today’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) reports a promising pickup in both job openings and hires in February 2021, a sign that the recovery is finally moving ahead. The increase in hires was notable in accommodation and food services, but decreases in state and local government education are particularly troubling (though we know from March jobs data that state and local government hiring began to pick up in March). Overall, hires remain below its level before the recession hit, but job openings have now edged above its pre-recession levels. Once public health experts indicate it is safe to reopen and the American Rescue Plan (which was passed after today’s JOLTS data were collected) takes effect, I’m confident those openings will grow and translate into hires. Layoffs have held steady over the last couple of months. One of the most striking indicators from today’s report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is the job seekers ratio—the ratio of unemployed workers (averaged for mid-February and mid-March) to job openings (at the end of February). On average, there were 9.8 million unemployed workers compared with only 7.4 million job openings. This translates into a job seekers ratio of about 1.3 unemployed workers to every job opening. Put another way, for every 13 workers who were officially counted as unemployed, there were only available jobs for 10 of them. That means, no matter what they did, there were no jobs for 2.5 million unemployed workers.As with job losses, workers in certain industries are facing a steeper uphill battle. In the construction industry as well as arts, entertainment, and recreation, there were more than three unemployed workers per job opening. In educational services, accommodation and food services, other services, and transportation and utilities, there were more than two unemployed workers per job opening. As bad as these numbers are, they miss the fact that many more weren’t counted among the unemployed: The economic pain remains widespread with 23.6 million workers hurt by the coronavirus downturn. On the whole, the U.S. economy is seeing a significantly slower hiring pace than we experienced in May or June. While the pickup in job openings is a promising sign, hiring in February was below where it was before the recession. There was an increase in jobs in the mid-March employment report, but we still have a long way to go before recovering the large job shortfall—11.0 million when using a reasonable counterfactual of job growth if the recession hadn’t occurred—that remains.

 MLB All-Star Game officially moved to Denver - Major League Baseball officially announced on Tuesday that its All-Star Game, scheduled for July 13, will take place in Denver, after the league pulled the competition out of Atlanta last week in protest of the state’s new restrictive voting laws. “Major League Baseball is grateful to the Rockies, the City of Denver and the State of Colorado for their support of this summer’s All-Star Game,” MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred wrote in a statement. “We appreciate their flexibility and enthusiasm to deliver a first-class event for our game and the region. We look forward to celebrating our sport’s best players and entertaining fans around the world,” Manfred added. MLB, according to the statement, selected the Rockies to host the game because they were "already in the bidding process to host a future All-Star Game." The league added that the Rockies had "supplied a detailed plan" for hotel, event space and security, which took months to put together, and MLB staff had already made "several site visits to Denver." Gov. Jared Polis (D) and Mayor Michael Hancock, the league added, both committed to providing the "necessary facilities and services" needed to support the festivities.

Rand Paul calls for Republicans to boycott Coca-Cola  Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is calling on Republicans to boycott Coca-Cola after the company stated its disapproval for a new voting law in Georgia. "If they want to boycott us why don't we boycott them," Paul said during an appearance on Fox News on Tuesday. "This is the only thing that will teach them a lesson. If Coca-Cola wants to only operate in Democrat states and have only Democrats drink them, God love 'em. We'll see how well they do when half the country quits drinking Coca-Cola." After the controversial bill was passed by Republicans in Georgia late last month, Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey called the measure "unacceptable." “Let me be crystal clear and unequivocal, this legislation is unacceptable, it is a step backward and it does not promote principles we have stood for in Georgia, around broad access to voting, around voter convenience, about ensuring election integrity, and this is frankly just a step backwards,” Quincey said. A slew of other companies followed, including Delta Air Lines, JP Morgan Chase and Major League Baseball, which pulled its annual All-Star Game out of Atlanta over the bill's passage. Democrats have argued the bill makes it harder for many people, particularly minorities, to vote. Republicans say the bill is needed to beef up election security amid a growing distrust among conservatives with the electoral process following the 2020 elections. Coca-Cola is headquartered in Atlanta.

Peak Woke - Kunstler - What were the execs of these mighty companies thinking — these knights of the boardroom, these capitalist geniuses, these moral nonpareils — when they cancelled Atlanta’s turn to host the midsummer All-star Game to “protest” Georgia’s passage of a law that requires voter ID? Surely that they were striking a righteous blow against structural racism. And then, the rest of the world realized — almost immediately — that Major League Baseball requires online ticket buyers to show ID when they pick up their tickets at any stadium… and that Delta Airlines requires passengers to show ID (duh) before being allowed to fly in one of their airplanes… and that various other corporations snookered into this latest hustle such as Nike, Coca Cola, and Calvin Klein support forced labor in the Asian nations that manufacture their products.They’re Woke, you see. The tentacles of Wokery have reached into every last compartment of American life now, more effectively even than the Covid-19 corona virus. Wokeness emerged on the scene in 2014 when the feckless teenager Michael Brown was shot to death by police officer Darren Wilson upon arrest in Ferguson, Missouri, an event that kicked off the Black Lives Matter movement. The moral panic BLM ignited proved to be a spectacularly effective device for repelling the truth of the situation, and many more like it, which was that Michael Brown resisted arrest, fought with, and menaced officer Wilson before getting shot. The Woke moral panic that proceeded from this effectively suppressed two truths about police relations with Black America: 1) that Blacks committed crimes against life and property at a disproportionately high rate to their percentage in the US population, and 2) that the number of unarmed black people killed by police was statistically miniscule, and in most cases involved people resisting arrest or fighting with police. As the 2016 election approached, the Democratic Party realized it was in its interest to cultivate the Woke moral panic so as to marshal the Black voting bloc so crucial to victory at the polls. In 2020, China gave the Democrats their greatest gift, Covid-19, a means to wreck the US economy and an excuse to pare away Americans’ constitutional rights to various freedoms of speech, published expression, movement, association, and economic liberty. Finally, in managing to elect the inert and incompetent Joe Biden via ballot fraud the party went a scam too far. All social hysterias run their courses. They run out of new gags, and out of new recruits. Their tropes grow tiresome, even comical, such as the Woke mainstays of “racism,” “misogyny,” and “white supremacy.” Their promptings reveal themselves as obviously dishonest. The punishments they seek seem increasingly warped and sadistic. The behavior they induce begins to look patently insane. That’s where America stands now.

40,000 baseball fans crowd Texas stadium --A near-capacity crowd of 38,238 fans in Arlington, Texas, attended the first home game for the Texas Rangers baseball team Monday afternoon, making it the largest official attendance at a stadium event in the US during the COVID-19 pandemic. In February in Florida the Daytona 500 car race took place before a crowd of just over 30,000, and the Super Bowl was played before 24,835 fans, including 7,500 vaccinated health care workers, in Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium. At those events, the attendance was about one-third of stadium capacity, in contrast to Monday’s attendance at Globe Life Field, where the Rangers played the Toronto Blue Jay in a stadium at 99 percent capacity. The Texas Rangers had announced plans to fill their stadium to capacity after Texas Governor Greg Abbott ended restrictions on all business operations as well as all mask mandates on March 2. “We’re very confident we won’t be a super-spreader event,” said Ranger’s CEO Neil Leibman, shortly after Abbott lifted COVID-19 protections. “With all the protocols that we’re following, we’ll be extremely responsible and provide a very comfortable environment for somebody to enjoy the game without worrying we’re going to be a spreader event,” Leibman said. “We will require all those who enter Globe Life Field to wear a mask or face covering, and are working with Major League Baseball on some additional protocols required for player health and safety.” Fans were told to wear masks unless eating or drinking. Inside the stadium, signs reading “wear your masks” were plastered on various walls and occasional reminders to keep masks on and social distance rang out over a loudspeaker. These “rules,” however, were universally ignored by those in attendance. Although many fans entered with masks, once they took their seats and the game began, most took off their masks and kept them off. Season ticket holder Randall Henley told the Dallas Morning New s that he was “just amazed at the number of people who aren’t wearing masks. Henley said there was little policing throughout the game and the usher in his section was “non-existent.” He said “he didn’t hear a single person tell others to put on a mask.”

Carnival: "We May Have No Choice" But To Move Cruise Ships Outside US To Resume Operations --Following last month's CDC announcement that its new "conditional sailing order" barred cruise ships from departing the US, or sailing through its waters through Nov. 1, Carnival Cruise Line released a press release around 1400 ET Tuesday, saying it may have no other choice but to move its cruise ships outside US homeports to resume operations. Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line, said: "While we have not made plans to move Carnival Cruise Line ships outside of our US homeports, we may have no choice but to do so in order to resume our operations which have been on 'pause' for over a year. We appreciate the continued patience and support from our loyal guests, travel advisors and business partners as we work on a return-to-service solution."Duffy continued: "We know that this is very disappointing to our guests who continue to be eager to sail, and we remain committed to working with the Administration and the CDC to find a workable solution that best serves the interest of public health. We are asking that the cruise industry be treated on par with the approach being taken with other travel and tourism sectors, as well as US society at large."  Carnival shares popped and dropped on the news.

 Norwegian Cruise Line to resume sailing with vaccinated passengers --Norwegian Cruise Line announced Tuesday that it would resume sailing in July, with all passengers required to be vaccinated and tested for COVID-19 before boarding. “Over a year after we initially suspended sailings, the time has finally come when we can provide our loyal guests with the news of our great cruise comeback,” Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Harry Sommer said in a statement. “We have been working diligently towards our resumption of operations, focusing on the guest experience with health and safety at the forefront. The growing availability of the COVID-19 vaccine has been a game changer. The vaccine, combined with our science-backed health and safety protocols, will help us provide our guests with what we believe will be the healthiest and safest vacation at sea," Sommer said. "All sailing aboard cruises with embarkation dates through Oct. 31, 2021 will be required to be fully vaccinated and tested prior to boarding our ships," he said. Three Norwegian ships will operate at reduced capacity for voyages around the Greek isles and Caribbean, the company said, with the first cruise set to leave port on July 25. The July voyage will embark from Athens, Greece, while Caribbean cruises will launch from Montego Bay, Jamaica, on Aug. 7 and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, on Aug 15. Norwegian's announcement comes as the U.S. vaccination rollout has resulted in more than one-third of all U.S. adults receiving at least one dose of the vaccine. A Friday statement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding commercial cruises launching from U.S. ports offered no timeline for the resumption of operations.

Homelessness crisis rises across the US Midwest -- The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released its 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) on March 18. Also called the Point-in-Time (PIT) report, the AHAR graphs changes in the numbers of sheltered and unsheltered homeless people from year to year. The PIT report concluded that nationally, homelessness had increased even before the economic impact of the pandemic. 580,466 people were homeless on a single night in January 2020—an increase of 2.2 percent from 2019. Homelessness has increased for the previous four years. The economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have already resulted in a sharp increase in homelessness in the Midwest. A larger crisis looms when the federal eviction moratorium, extended again on March 29 through June 30, is allowed to expire. The federal eviction moratorium has never included rent forgiveness for tenants, meaning that thousands of dollars of debt are accumulating that cannot be repaid. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that homeless encampments not be razed to help contain coronavirus spread. Nonetheless, homeless encampments have been subject to being cleared out by municipalities, spreading the COVID-19 pandemic as individuals are forced to seek out new shelter. These efforts to clear out homeless encampments also involve police violence. A March 18 clearing out of a homeless encampment in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was denounced by the public for recorded brutality on the part of the Minneapolis Police Department. A video of the incident shows an officer kneeling on a protester’s neck or back. The city is currently the site of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes in May 2020 and sparked protests by tens of millions of people across the globe. Minnesota is estimated to have 20,000 homeless people on any given night. The Minnesota legislature has begun to discuss ways to lift the state’s eviction moratorium. Approximately 100,000 Minnesota households are behind on rent, owing a combined total of $200 million. Even if the legislature does not remove the restriction on evictions tenants are at risk. The state is one of seven that does not require landlords to give written notice before filing an eviction lawsuit. Once a lawsuit is filed, tenants can be kicked out for failure to pay rent in only nine days. More than 600 people have lost their housing to eviction lawsuits during the state moratorium.

New York to give up to $15,600 to undocumented migrants hit by Covid -- New York will offer payments of up to $15,600 to undocumented immigrants affected by the pandemic, in a sweeping move which could benefit nearly 300,000 people in the state. The state dedicated a total of $2.1bn to an Excluded Worker Fund, which will make one-time payments to undocumented people who lost work during the coronavirus outbreak, which shut down New York City last spring.The measure passed in the New York legislature this week, as part of a larger $212bn budget aimed to jump-start the state’s economy.Undocumented workers are eligible to receive $15,600 if they can prove they are New York state residents who are ineligible for unemployment benefits due to their immigration status, and lost income due to the pandemic.Other undocumented immigrants who are unable to meet the same level of verification will be eligible for $3,200 – the amount of federal assistance payments many Americans have already received, but which undocumented immigrants have been unable to claim.The Fiscal Policy Institute, a New York-based policy group, estimated that 290,000 workers will benefit from the Excluded Worker Fund, including 213,000 in New York City. About 92,000 workers in New York state will be eligible for the full $15,600 payment. About 725,000 undocumented immigrants live in New York state, according to the Pew Research Center.Immigrant-rights groups had pushed for relief payments, and a group of undocumented immigrants spent the last three weeks on hunger strike to push for support from the state.  “There have been 23 days without food. Twenty-three days when I was hungry and in pain. But it hasn’t just been 23 days. It’s actually been decades of pain, the pain of indifference and negligence,” Ana Ramirez, an undocumented worker and a member of the New York Communities for Change group, told AMNY on Wednesday. Last year, California introduced a similar relief program, but on a much smaller scale. The state contributed $75m to a cash assistance program which offered undocumented immigrants between $500 to $1000, on a first come, first served basis.

Black Americans flock to gun stores and clubs: 'I needed to protect myself' - Americans bought a record number of firearms last year. An estimated 5 million people bought their first ever gun between March and August, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), a trade organization, and that number continued to climb throughout the year. Black Americans saw the highest increase in new gun owners of any demographic, the NSSF found, with gun ownership in the group up by a staggering 58.2%. Though Black Americans have a multitude of reasons for buying a gun – some new gun owners told the Guardian about stress related to the pandemic, others about the anxiety of seeing scores of armed white protesters rallying against lockdown orders or the election results – many had a common experience in the process of obtaining one. They were met with apathy, and in some cases disrespect, from white gun store owners, gun club members and at shooting ranges. The cold shoulder they received has pushed scores to join Black gun clubs and seek training from Black experts. “June 2020 – when the riots were hitting different cities – my students increased,” said Rogers Anderson, who is the commander of the Black Gun Owners Association’s Oakland/Bay Area chapter and conducts training sessions at northern California shooting ranges. “Now 99.9% of my students are either single Black women or Black women with children who fear for their safety,” Anderson said. Black gun ownership – sometimes referred to as the Black tradition of arms – has seen many iterations. After the American civil war, newly freed Black people formed militias to defend themselves against white supremacist violence. Into the mid-20th century, civil rights activists such as Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr were known to carry guns and groups like theDeacons for Defense in the south and Black Panthers wielded their firearms publicly as a part of their activism. In recent months, Black gun owners with groups like the Not Fucking Around Coalition (NFAC) have marched with long guns slung across their chest and handguns visible in their holsters during protests over Covid-19 restrictions and demonstrations demanding justice for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.  Guns have continued to fly off store shelves amid the unrest following Donald Trump’s election defeat and the lingering pain around killings of Americans such as Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot and killed while on a run through a Georgia neighborhood.

Target sells Woke Prayer Book: “Dear God, Please help me to hate White people.”  - Are you ready for this week’s absurdity? A prayer book called “A Rhythm of Prayer: A Collection of Meditations for Renewal,” is a number one bestseller on Amazon in the category “meditation”.One prayer, called “Prayer of a Weary Black Woman,” by Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes, a theology professor at Mercer University, starts:“Dear God, Please help me to hate White people. Or at least to want to hate them… I want to stop caring about their misguided, racist souls, to stop believing that they can be better, that they can stop being racist.”The “prayer” then describes the type of White person they want to hate— not the actual blatantly racist ones, but the “wolves in sheep’s clothing” who “don’t see color”, are friendly and accepting on the surface.“Lord, if it be your will, harden my heart. Stop me from striving to see the best in people. Stop me from being hopeful that White people can do and be better. Let me imagine them instead as white-hooded robes standing in front of burning crosses. Let me see them as hopelessly unrepentant, reprobate bigots who have blasphemed the Holy Spirit and who need to be handed over to the evil one.”“Grant me a Get Out of Judgment Free Card if I make White people the exception to your commandment to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.”This is a sick, insane, religious cult of hateful people. But institutions like churches, schools, and corporations are pushing this blatant racism mainstream.The book is also available at Target— a store which banned a book that gave voice to transgender people who regretted their decisions to transition. But hatred of white people is perfectly acceptable.

 Parents face horrific torture, abuse charges of 11-year-old found dead in Rodeo home - Neighbors and friends are grieving the loss of an 11-year-old girl in a Contra Costa County community. They wonder if they missed warning signs of abuse. "We failed the little girl. We failed her as a community. The school failed. We failed her as neighbors," Nikki Donohue-Jones said on Wednesday. She created a memorial in front of the girl's home.On March 23 around 3:30 a.m., first responders were called to the home in Rodeo for what was reported as a medical emergency. But authorities say the girl was found dead with signs of abuse.The exact cause of her death is under investigation. "The child suffered physical abuse and suffered significant injuries and it was ongoing," Contra Costa County Deputy District Attorney Derek Butts said.He said the alleged abuse dates back to last November.29-year-old Crystal Diaz ,the stepmother, and 30-year-old Rene Diaz, the father, face charges of torture, aggravated mayhem and child abuse.Court documents state that the couple "intentionally caused permanent disability and disfigurement and deprivation of a limb, organ and body member.""The torture-mayhem charge is based on branding which produced visible burn marks on the child," said Butts.He describes the child's injuries as more than substantial bruising over a large part of her body.The prosecutor said the emergency call for help made by her parents was the first indication of any trouble,"It's shocking. It makes me sick to my stomach," said Christie Fernandez, whose daughter was a friend and classmate of the girl.  "She was very funny, crafty and she was just nice to everyone,"

Report highlights the disastrous impact of the pandemic on public education in California  A report published last month by the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) titled, “California Teachers and COVID-19: How the Pandemic Is Impacting the Teacher Workforce,” highlights the acute crisis of K–12 public education in California, the most populous state in the US.The study examines the deepening shortage of teaching staff, primarily due to difficulties recruiting and retaining teachers in areas of high poverty, as well as the problems of teacher burnout, excess workloads and early retirements, all of which have been severely exacerbated by the pandemic.While the study focuses on California, the crisis is universal and is affecting tens of millions of educators worldwide. State data from Michigan shows that from August 2020 through February 2021 there was a 44 percent increase in midyear retirements compared with the same period in 2019–2020, while a separate study by Horace Mann Educators Corporation found that 27 percent of US teachers are considering quitting due to the pandemic, with similar figures found in countries throughout the world.In the fall of 2020, LPI interviewed superintendents and human resources administrators of 17 school districts across California, including eight of the 11 largest districts which educate nearly one in six students in the state, as well as nine smaller rural districts. Among the large districts surveyed were Los Angeles, San Diego, Long Beach, Elk Grove and San Francisco.The report is limited by the fact that the authors only interviewed administrators and not teachers directly. Nevertheless, the report reflects the horrendous stress teachers are under due to the difficulties of remote learning and tremendous fear over in-person teaching in unsafe classrooms, while many juggle having to care for their own children at home.The report highlights the stresses that teachers have been subject to, as they struggle to adapt to the remote learning systems and having to engage students, who themselves are often under acute stress. With many districts having moved to the unsafe “hybrid” model, in which teachers simultaneously teach in-person and online, teachers need to implement two lesson plans, thus doubling their workload. They are increasingly compelled to act as untrained counselors to handle the emotional needs of students and provide technical support to students who may have spotty internet under a communications infrastructure that is unprepared to provide a high quality learning experience. One district leader explained how the shift to distance learning impacted veteran teachers, who typically rely on a body of lessons and materials designed for in-person learning amassed over their years of experience, stating, “The distance learning platform makes it everyone’s first year of teaching all over again.”

As pandemic surges, New York City mayor makes it harder to close schools with COVID-19 outbreaks --  Even though the US has now entered its fourth surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, driven primarily by the uncontrolled spread of more infectious and lethal variants in schools, the drive to reopen schools and keep them open continues apace. On Thursday, New York City’s Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio unilaterally changed Department of Education (DOE) rules, making it more difficult to temporarily close schools when there are COVID-19 outbreaks. Until now, schools had to close for 10 days whenever two cases were detected in the same building within a seven-day period, but starting Monday the threshold will be raised to four cases. Further, the four infections must be determined to have originated inside the school, which is all but impossible given the totally inadequate contact tracing in the city. Significantly, whole schools will no longer close for 24 hours when outbreaks occur, with only individual classrooms closing temporarily. These changes were made one day before the latest deadline for families to opt-in for in-person learning and are part of a transparent effort to pack the schools as much as possible and keep them open regardless of the spread of the virus. The latest opt-in period was itself announced on March 24, just after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) unscientifically reduced distancing recommendations between students from six feet to three feet. To date, the vast majority of New York City families have chosen to keep their children learning safely from home, with roughly 700,000 out of the district’s 1.1 million students learning remotely. Since schools first reopened last September, 10,717 students and 10,618 staff have officially tested positive, with only 20 percent of the district’s students and staff tested weekly. Only 44 percent of DOE employees have been vaccinated, with 82,000 employees totally unprotected from the deadly virus. In-person learning has been chaotic, with 13,612 classroom closures and 2,373 extended building closures since last September, as schools often announce closures hours before the school day is to begin. The easing of school closure rules is being combined with a propaganda campaign claiming that schools are safe, in order to entice families to send their children back.

Gov. Whitmer Asks Michigan High Schools To Close For 2 Weeks As COVID Transmission Rate Soars --Michigan has claimed the mantle of America's COVID epicenter this week as it officially has the highest transmission rate in the US, driven in part by a slower-than-average vaccination campaign and the growing prevalence of mutant strains. And on Friday, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asked the federal government to send more vaccines, and ordered high schools in the state to return to remote-only education for two weeks. Youth sports will also be asked to take a break, and diners have been asked to avoid eating in restaurants. All four of these requests are voluntary and don't carry the weight of official mandates from her administration. Watch this morning's press conference below.Whitmer said a temporary pause would go "a long way" to stop the spread of the virus and save lives. "Right now our numbers are alarming, and we all have a role to play to get our state moving in the right direction again," Whitmer said.

Los Angeles Families Reluctant to Return Kids to School -The exact figures may change slightly over the next few weeks, but for the most part, parents and students in the massive Los Angeles Unified School District have had their say. In overwhelming numbers, it appears, they’re not going back to the classroom this school year.It’s not for a lack of effort on the part of the LAUSD, the nation’s second-largest school district with more than 600,000 students. Quite the opposite: After spending many months describing why it wasn’t safe for students to return to class, district administrators have launched a recent media blitz aimed at convincing families it’s OK to send their children back to campus — an effort that includes detailed explanations of the mitigation and sanitizing measures in place at every school.But the reluctance is real. It is borne out by LAUSD’s own survey data, which indicates that as of April 1, only about 38% of elementary school children will return to campuses when they reopen in mid-April. Among middle schoolers, the figure drops to 25%, and among high school students it plummets to 16%.  Because those survey figures assume that any nonresponding family is going to remain in distance learning, there’s some wiggle room in the numbers. But that is basically the reality facing the district. This deep into the school year, with the COVID-19 pandemic still very present, the vast majority of families are choosing to ride it out at home and perhaps hope for a less disruptive choice when classes resume next fall.In L.A.’s hard hit lower income neighborhoods, COVID infection rates remain higher than average, and vaccination outreach in those communities continues to lag. LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said last week that vaccination rates for those age 18 and older in the city are as high as 40% in some neighborhoods, but as low as 10% in others, and “Unfortunately, many of the communities served by schools in Los Angeles Unified are at the lower levels.” It is estimated that about 80% of the district’s students come from low income households. “We hear directly from families what their concern is. It’s not the relative safety of schools,” Beutner said in a video update posted to the district’s website. “They know in Los Angeles we’ve created the safest possible school environment.” Rather, the superintendent said, many families are worried that their children will catch the virus from others who show up on campus, then bring it home. For some families, that could mean the risk of infecting adults who absolutely cannot afford to stop working if they get sick.

WE Charity Scandal: Nonprofit involved with 1,400 California schools accused of fraud, under investigation in Canada - ABC7 San Francisco (KGO) -- A well-known international nonprofit that's promoted service work to more than 400,000 California students and has been highly endorsed by Gov. Gavin Newsom is being investigated in Canada. A Parliamentary committee investigating WE Charity held a hearing Thursday about the nonprofit's business dealings. The charity became scrutinized after receiving a $900 million COVID contract in June to oversee a student service grant in Canada intended to help students with volunteering.  A similar program already existed."We all stopped and said wait... what?" said Charlie Angus, a Canadian member of Parliament, who sits on a committee investigating WE Charity for the past eight months.   “It didn't make sense."  WE Charity, formerly known as Free the Children, was founded in Canada in 1995 by two brothers, Craig and Marc Kielburger. It started as a club to ban child labor but transformed into one of the world's largest international nonprofits aimed to empower youth around the world. WE Charity officially launched in California in 2014. Gavin Newsom, who was lieutenant governor at the time, tweeted on March 26 of that year to welcome the charity's first statewide fundraiser "WE Day California" hosted inside the Oakland arena. 16,000 students from hundreds of schools across the state packed inside to watch celebrities like Selena Gomez, Orlando Bloom, and Seth Rogan perform sharing inspirational messages. The ABC7 I-Team spoke with Charlie Angus and Pierre Poilievre, both federal members of Parliament. They each represent two of Canada's four political parties. “It all started with the COVID contract," Poilievre said. "It raised some eyebrows."Poilievre is referring to the $900 million COVID contract WE Charity received to oversee a student service grant in Canada to help students with volunteering. On March 12, 2021, the Kielburger brothers testified under oath they paid Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's family nearly a half-million dollars in speaking fees for WE Day events."The revelations just keep getting worse and worse," said Poilievre.WE Charity's COVID contract was canceled last July after a huge public outcry prompting two Canadian Parliamentary committees to launch an investigation. "What's really shocking about WE Charity is they seem to have an incredible capacity to deeply embed themselves with key political figures," Poilievre said. Newsom, who was Lt. Gov. at the time, became co-chair of WE Day California with his wife, Jennifer, from 2014 to 2016.

 In-person classes canceled in Toronto amid uptick in variant cases  - Canadian health authorities announced on Wednesday that Toronto, the highest populated city in the country, would be cancelling in-person learning for students in elementary and secondary school as it deals with another wave of coronavirus cases. As Reuters reports, Canada’s largest school district will be moving its 247,000 students to remote learning until April 18. “Schools should be the first places in our community to open, and the last to close,” Toronto Public Health said in a statement. “Unfortunately, current circumstances require that difficult decisions must be taken locally to protect all those in our school communities.” Canada has averaged around 5,200 new COVID-19 cases per day this past week, Reuters notes, with younger Canadians being more affected in the latest surge, which has seen an increasing demand for artificial lungs as well as staffing struggles in hospitals. “Around the world, countries are facing a very serious third wave of this pandemic,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa. “And right now, so is Canada.” Last Thursday, Ontario, which includes Toronto, announced a new round of shutdown measures that would stay in effect for 28 days, though it fell short of issuing a stay-at-home order. Canada has recorded more than 1 million coronavirus cases so far and more than 23,000 related deaths. Ontario currently has a coronavirus case rate of 2,495 per 100,000 people, a lower rate than several other Canadian provinces such as Quebec and Alberta. In terms of overall total cases, Ontario ranks the worst with 367,602 confirmed.

COVID-19 outbreaks skyrocket at US colleges and universities as new variants emerge on campuses -As the US death toll approaches 600,000, universities and colleges across the country are reemerging as hotspots of COVID-19 outbreaks. The spike in cases is a direct result of thousands of students returning to campuses after spring break, despite the critical lessons from the disastrous fall semester reopenings. Four months into the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine, universities are still far from having vaccinated all current students, contrary to what many had promised. To further exacerbate the situation, in addition to numerous spikes in coronavirus cases, colleges are now reporting cases of the new COVID-19 variant found on their campuses. Since the start of this year, it is estimated that more than 120,000 cases are linked to colleges and universities and 530,000 since the start of the pandemic. A data-driven study on 30 large universities revealed that a spike in campus infection rates preceded a peak in the surrounding counties by less than 14 days, implying that universities had become COVID-19 superspreader sites. A survey by the New York Times shows that at least 18 colleges have reported more than 1,000 cases in 2021 alone. At least 15 college institutions detected new COVID variants. Readers should note that not all testing conducted at college campuses are capable of detecting and differentiating between the variants, so it is expected that the actual numbers are higher. The reopening drive can be seen across the country, including Republican- and Democratic-controlled states. Infections are rising at college campuses, with those in Florida and Arizona reporting among the worst numbers of outbreaks. Adding fuel to the fire, over the past month mask mandates have been lifted in at least six states, including Texas, totaling some 37 million people.In Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis issued an order to nullify all public health measures imposed by local governments, cases have skyrocketed with a total of 2,077,032 infections since the start of the pandemic and 6,017 cases on April 2.The University of Florida in Gainesville has observed the highest case number for 2021, with 2,138 confirmed cases between January and March and a total of 8,894 since the start of the pandemic. According to the university’s testing dashboard, there were more than 130 confirmed cases on campus over the past five days. The second highest case count at a university is Arizona State University ,which had 1,822 cases for 2021 and 6,327 since the start of the pandemic.

 LSU athletic official claims she was harassed after reporting ex-coach Les Miles -- A Louisiana State University (LSU) employee who reported football coach - Les Miles for sexual harassment claims school officials attempted to silence her in an effort to cover up the allegations.Sharon Lewis, LSU’s associate athletic director of football recruiting, is expected to file a flurry of state and federal lawsuits this week relating to the school's alleged efforts, USA Today reported.Lewis claims she was ignored by officials when she came forward with her allegations, that she faced discrimination based on sex and race, and that she was underpaid, according to USA Today. LSU's executive deputy athletic director, Verge Ausberry, and LSU's senior associate athletic director, Miriam Segar, are reportedly targets of Lewis's lawsuits. Lewis claims Ausberry verbally abused her and that Segar made false statements to an LSU Title IX investigator in an attempt to get her in trouble after she spoke up about Miles's alleged misconduct. Both employees were disciplined last month for their roles in the handling of sexual harassment allegations involving Miles, USA Today reported. "They get to lie, and they get to admit that they lied, and come back to work," Lewis, the first Black female football recruiting director in the Southeastern Conference, told the newspaper. "I mean, it’s about – we have to set a standard there, that’s all," she added. Lewis alleges the school never investigated her complaints.

Biden seeks extra $400 a year in Pell grants for college and to expand aid to Dreamers -- President Joe Biden asked Congress for a $400 annual increase in maximum Pell grants for college students as part of a budget proposal issued Friday. The president also called to broaden eligibility to undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers. Pell grants are available to undergraduate students who display exceptional financial need. Unlike loans, they generally don't have to be repaid. If adopted by Congress, Biden's budget would yield the largest one-time annual increase to the federal grants since 2009, according to the proposal, signed by Shalanda Young, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget. Students can currently get a maximum $6,495 grant for the 2021-22 award year, which starts July 1, according to the Department of Education. Amounts vary based on criteria like school cost, full- or part-time status, and information reported on one's FAFSA federal student aid form (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The Biden administration positioned the increase as a first step toward the president's goal of ultimately doubling grant money available to students. The raise would promote greater racial equity and lower financial barriers for low- and middle-income students seeking a college degree, the administration said. "To help shrink racial gaps in higher education — which have worsened amidst the COVID-19 pandemic — the discretionary request takes a significant first step toward doubling the Pell Grant by proposing to increase the maximum grant by $400," according to the proposal. The budget request applies to discretionary federal spending for fiscal-year 2022, which starts Oct. 1. The proposal would also make Pell grants available to undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and are Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients. The DACA program, created during the Obama administration, lets such individuals, known as Dreamers, stay in the country for a period of time that's subject to renewal. However, DACA recipients are not eligible for federal financial aid like grants or loans. Biden's budget would allocate an extra $3 billion to the Department of Education for the measures. Overall, the request includes $102.8 billion for the Education Department, a roughly 41% increase over the amount enacted in 2021.

Biden Excludes Student Loan Forgiveness From Budget Proposal, But Calls For More Funding For Higher Ed: Key Details --The White House today released an outline of President Biden’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2022. The $1.5 trillion spending proposal includes sweeping increases in domestic spending initiatives including more funding for education, border security, and combatting climate change. The proposal includes an overall 16% increase in domestic spending.Biden’s budget proposal specifically increases funding for higher education, with $102.8 billion allocated to the Department of Education, a $29.8 billion or 41 percent increase over the 2021. The increased funding for higher education will include $3 billion in Pell Grants and expanded eligibility for Dreamers, as well as an increase to the Pell Grant award limit.The proposal also includes increases in funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities and other Minority-Serving Institutions. And it proposes a $100 million increase in funding for programs that aim to increase participation in science and engineering of individuals from racial and ethnic groups.But not included in the President’s budget proposal is broad student loan forgiveness. Biden has publicly supported the idea of widespread student loan forgiveness, and he has repeatedly emphasized his preference that Congress enact student debt cancellation through legislation. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki recently reiterated earlier this week that if Congress would pass a student loan forgiveness bill, Biden would gladly sign it. So why did Biden exclude student loan forgiveness from the budget proposal?Despite his ongoing stated support, Biden also did not include student loan forgiveness in the American Rescue Plan (the recent stimulus package he signed into law). The administration had suggested then that the White House preferred that student loan forgiveness be part of separate student loan reform legislation. That may also be why Biden excluded student loan forgiveness in the budget proposal, as well.

FBI Investigating Reporting Fraud at $62 Billion Pennsylvania Public Pension Fund, PSERS; Returns Allegedly Falsified to Avoid Increased Worker Contributions  -- Yves Smith --Frankly, it’s surprising that it’s taken this long for an investigation of a public pension fund over allegations that it lied about its returns. But it’s not a surprise that it took Federal investigators, as in the FBI, to saddle up, in this case against a Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System, aka PSERS. The incentives are obvious: most public pension funds base staff bonuses on investment performance. But a second, powerful motivation is that raising pension contributions to shore up pension funding is deeply unpopular. At PSERS, who bears the pain of shortfall is more complicated and is directly tied to the fraud allegations.As the Philadelphia Inquirer, which broke this story, explains, even in the event that the PSERS’ investment performance meets or exceeds its investment target, only taxpayers will be on the hook to make up for a funding shortfall. If it falls below the target, both employees and taxpayers pony up. As the Inquirer explained:PSERS must abide by a so-called risk-sharing rule that requires public school workers to pay extra when the pension fund falls short of an investment target. If the target is met, but the fund still needs more money, taxpayers alone pay more.We don’t yet know how big the adjustment was but it pushed the returns just over the line:The target was a return of 6.36%. In December, the board endorsed a report from the plan’s experts that the fund had actually grown by 6.38% — just enough to spare teachers an increase.State and local taxpayers are expected to pay $5 billion to keep PSERS finances on an even keel this year, slightly more than last year. School staff were to pay $1.1 billion.And the article explained which population was being protected via these bogus figures:The mistake, if uncaught, could have improperly spared 100,000 teachers and other employees from a hike in pension paycheck deductions, leaving taxpayers to cover more of the rising gap between the fund’s assets and future payments to working and retired public school staff…Any bump in payments into the pension system by teachers and other education employees would only apply to staff hired after 2011 — about 100,000 of the 250,000 workers paying to support the fund. This focus on newer employees reflects legal bars on changing the state contracts with older ones.PSERS is trying to depict the performance overstatement as an error but its body language says otherwise. It has launched an investigation of its three top staff members and has gone from denying that PSERS has any information that anything criminal had taken place to ducking the question.

 Cancer diagnoses see a huge spike at age 65, study finds - When it comes to any illness, the sooner it can be diagnosed, the better someone’s chances of recovery and survival. But a review of more than 600,000 patient records found that people are delaying medical care until they turn 65 years old, despite the risks involved. Researchers at Stanford School of Medicine discovered a “substantial rise” in new breast, lung, colon and prostate cancer diagnoses nationwide — the most common cancers in the U.S. — at 65, which is when Americans become eligible for Medicare. A quick analysis of study senior author Dr. Joseph Shrager’s patients’ records revealed a twofold increase in lung cancer surgeries among 65-year-olds compared to those just one year younger. What’s more, adults older than 65 who had cancer and were insured were more likely to get surgery to treat their illness and were less likely to die from it than their younger, uninsured counterparts.The team speculates that people on the cusp of Medicare eligibility wait until they turn 65 to seek cancer screenings and treatment because they “often lack insurance as a result of early retirement,” have other health conditions that hinder the renewal of their insurance plans or cannot afford private insurance costs, according to a Stanford news release.  In all, the study, published last week in the journal Cancer, suggests that expanding Medicare to those younger than 65 could improve cancer outcomes.

COVID Vaccines Could Lose Their Punch Within a Year, Experts Say --Two-thirds of epidemiologists from leading academic institutions say the world will need new or modified vaccines for COVID-19 within a year, new research shows. In a survey of 77 epidemiologists from 28 countries by the People's Vaccine Alliance, 66.2% predicted that the world has a year or less before variants make current vaccines ineffective. The People's Vaccine Alliance is a coalition of more than 50 organizations including African Alliance, Oxfam, Public Citizen, and UNAIDS (the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS). Almost a third (32.5%) of those surveyed said ineffectiveness would happen in 9 months or less; 18.2% said 6 months or less. Paul A. Offit, MD, director of the Vaccine Education Center, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, told Medscape Medical News that while it's hard to say whether vaccines could become ineffective in that timeframe, "It's perfectly reasonable to think it could happen." The good news, said Offit, who was not involved with the survey, is that SARS-CoV-2 mutates slowly compared with other viruses such as influenza. "To date," he said, "the mutations that have occurred are not far enough away from the immunity induced by your natural infection or immunization such that one isn't protected at least against severe and critical disease." That's the goal of vaccines, he noted: "to keep people from suffering mightily." A Line May Be Crossed "And so far that's happening, even with the variants," Offit said. "That line has not been crossed. But I think we should assume that it might be." Offit said it will be critical to monitor anyone who gets hospitalized who is known to have been previously infected or fully vaccinated. Then countries need to get really good at sequencing those viruses, he added. The great majority of those surveyed (88%) said that persistently low vaccine coverage in many countries would make it more likely that vaccine-resistant mutations will appear. Coverage comparisons between countries are stark.

Sunlight Neutralizes SARS-CoV-2 8 Times Faster Than Initially Assumed -  Researchers from UC Santa Barbara, Oregon State University, University of Manchester and ETH Zurich are calling for a closer look at sunlight's ability to neutralize SARS-CoV-2 after finding that the most recent study on the matter was not up to par.The team compared data from a July 2020 study that reported rapid sunlight inactivation of SARS-CoV-2 in a lab setting, with a theory of coronavirus inactivation by solar radiation that was published just a month earlier. They noticed that the virus was inactivated as much as eight times faster in experiments than the most recent theoretical model predicted. “The theory assumes that inactivation works by having UV-B hit the RNA of the virus, damaging it,” UC Santa Barbara mechanical engineering professor and lead author Paolo Luzzatto-Fegiz said in a statement.However, the research team felt that RNA inactivation by UV-B “might not be the whole story.” The scientists speculated that there could be another mechanism at play aside from RNA inactivation by UV-B rays such as UV-A, the less energetic component of sunlight.“People think of UV-A as not having much of an effect, but it might be interacting with some of the molecules in the medium,” Luzzatto-Fezig explained. Those molecules in turn could be interacting with the virus, speeding up inactivation.  “So, scientists don’t yet know what’s going on,” Luzzatto-Fegiz said; “Our analysis points to the need for additional experiments to separately test the effects of specific light wavelengths and medium composition.”

MIS-C cases on the rise in children with at least 3,000 reported and 36 dead -- As schools around the country continue to reopen with full backing of the Biden administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the unwavering support of the unions, doctors have begun reporting a frightening trend: a concerning uptick in the number of MIS-C cases among children and adolescents.MIS-C, or Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome, is on the rise among children. It is an acute medical condition observed in children who have either been diagnosed with COVID-19, or who were in close contact with a person who contracted the virus, often appearing weeks after infection. Parents don’t often connect their child’s symptoms of MIS-C to their previous infection of COVID-19.Children who develop MIS-C experience symptoms such as fever, heart palpitations, rapid breathing, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, headache, enlarged lymph nodes or redness and/or swelling of the eyes, lips, tongue, hands or feet. Any combination of these symptoms can make diagnosing MIS-C that much more difficult, as it has the tendency to imitate other diseases, such as Kawasaki Disease and Toxic Shock Syndrome.MIS-C affects the major organs of the body such as the heart, lungs, kidneys or brain. In some cases, the progression of the condition can cause heart dysfunction and cardiogenic shock, effectively impeding the heart’s ability to circulate enough blood to the entire body. Additionally, children can develop cardiomyopathy, a stiffening of the heart muscle, or experience an abnormal heartbeat. Still others require respiratory support from a ventilator or the amputation of limbs.The most comprehensive study of MIS-C cases in children to date waspublished April 6 in JAMA Pediatrics. Researchers reported that the vast majority of young children and adolescents who went on to develop MIS-C had only mild or asymptomatic forms of COVID-19. In fact, of the 1,000 cases studied, 75 percent did not display coronavirus symptoms. As of April 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 3,185 MIS-C cases (an increase of 568 from the 2,617 cases reported as of the beginning of March) and 36 deaths, and over 3 million children have been diagnosed with COVID-19. The initial increase in MIS-C cases arose out of the winter wave of COVID-19 cases, as people began to gather with their families over the holidays.

One-third of severe COVID-19 victims develop a mental health condition -  A new study published in the Lancet Psychiatry found that one-third of patients who suffered severe bouts of the coronavirus were then diagnosed with a mental health condition.Utilizing the electronic health records of 236,379 patients, a majority of whom were from the United States, researchers found that 34 percent were attributed with a neurological or psychiatric disorder.Of the patients studied, the four most common diagnoses were anxiety disorders at 17 percent, mood disorders at 14 percent, substance misuse disorders at 7 percent, and insomnia at 5 percent.Although exceedingly rare, patients who were admitted to intensive care also received diagnoses of strokes and dementia, at 7 percent and 2 percent, respectively.When other patient characteristics were considered, such as age, sex, ethnicity, and preexisting health issues, patients had a 44 percent greater risk of receiving a neurological or psychiatric diagnosis after fighting COVID-19 than after the flu.The lead author of the study, Paul Harrison of University of Oxford, told The Guardian, “These are real-world data from a large number of patients. They confirm the high rates of psychiatric diagnoses after Covid-19 and show that serious disorders affecting the nervous system (such as stroke and dementia) occur too. While the latter is much rarer, they are significant, especially in those who had severe Covid-19.”For these severe patients, it’s speculated the root could stem from the trauma of being severely ill, isolated from loved ones, held in intensive care, and, for some, intubated.However, the authors of the study acquiesce that their study has limitations. Because many symptomatic people aren’t ill enough to require inpatient care, the patients who were studied were among the most severely sick, and therefore could have had more traumatic experiences than others. But Harrison and his fellow authors anticipate the need for additional resources, spanning over a couple of years for those struggling after being severely ill, and warn health and social institutions to begin preparing now.

What Covid Means for the Athlete’s Heart -For sports fans across the country, the resumption of the regular sports calendar has signaled another step toward post-pandemic normality. But for the athletes participating in professional, collegiate, high school or even recreational sports, significant unanswered questions remain about the aftereffects of a covid infection.Chief among those is whether the coronavirus can damage their hearts, putting them at risk for lifelong complications and death. Preliminary data from early in the pandemic suggested that as many as 1 in 5 people with covid-19 could end up with heart inflammation, known as myocarditis, which has been linked to abnormal heart rhythms and sudden cardiac death.Screening studies conducted by college athletic programs over the past year have generally found lower numbers. But these studies have been too small to provide an accurate measure of how likely athletes are to develop heart problems after covid, and how serious those heart issues may be.Without definitive data, concerns arose that returning to play too soon could expose thousands of athletes to serious cardiac complications. On the other hand, if concerns proved overblown, the testing protocols could unfairly keep athletes out of competition and subject them to needless testing and treatment.“The last thing we want is to miss people that we potentially could have detected, and have that result in bad outcomes — in particular, the sudden death of a young athlete,” said Dr. Matthew Martinez, director of sports cardiology at Atlantic Health’s Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey and an adviser to several professional sports leagues. “But we also need to look at the flip side and the potential negatives of overtesting.”With millions of Americans playing high school, college, professional or master’s level sports, even a low rate of complications could result in significant numbers of affected athletes. And that could prompt a thorny discussion of how to balance the risk of a small percentage of players who could be in danger against the continuation of sports competition as we know it.

Children now playing 'huge role' in spread of COVID-19 variant, expert says Dr. Michael Osterholm previously supported sending children back to school, but says now the situation has changed. New developments in the COVID-19 pandemic have one leading epidemiologist re-evaluating his own advice. Dr. Michael Osterholm is the Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. He was also a member of Joe Biden's COVID-19 Advisory Board during the time between Biden being elected president and inaugurated. 20 million fake masks seized since beginning of year, CBP officials sayNewsom announces $536M wildfire prevention plan while visiting Fresno CountyNonprofit involved with 1,400 California schools accused of fraud, under investigation in CanadaCoronavirus Timeline: Tracking major moments of COVID-19 pandemic in San Francisco Bay AreaKatey Sagal, Andy Garcia star in messy, compelling new drama 'Rebel' on ABC Bryan, Texas shooting: Trooper shot pursuing suspect after 1 killed and 6 wounded in workplace shooting Osterholm previously supported sending children back to school. He said the virus was not a major threat to children. Now, the situation has changed. "Please understand, this B.1.1.7 variant is a brand new ball game," Osterholm said on NBC's Meet the Press. "It infects kids very readily. Unlike previous strains of the virus, we didn't see children under 8th grade get infected often or they were not frequently very ill, they didn't transmit to the rest of the community." The B.1.1.7 variant was first identified in the United Kingdom. It's now ripping through parts of the country. In Minnesota, Osterholm said more than 740 schools reported cases of the variant. In Michigan more young people are ending up in hospitals fighting more serious symptoms than previously seen in children with COVID-19. This is similar to what health officials have seen in other countries. The British Medical Journal wrote two months ago that "emerging evidence from Israel and Italy (shows) more young children are being infected with new variants of COVID-19." Seeing that happen in his own backyard, Osterholm is now questioning his own previous advice. "Anywhere you look where you see this emerging, you see that kids are playing a huge role in the transmission of this," Osterholm said. "All the things that we had planned for about kids in schools with this virus are really no longer applicable. We've got to take a whole new look at this issue." Vaccinations are expected to help fight off the B.1.1.7 variant. However, Osterholm said there's simply not enough time to just rely on vaccinations."We're not going to have nearly enough (vaccine doses) in the next 6 to 8 weeks to get through this surge, and we're going to have to look at other avenues to do that just as every other country in the world who's had a B.1.1.7 surge has had to do."

NASCAR's sniffer dogs can detect COVID-19 98% accuracy --Extrasensory dogs are being trained to sniff outCOVID-19 in human sweat with accuracy that compares closely to traditional tests.International researchers have claimed that well-trained dogs have the ability to correctly identify coronavirus patients at reported rates of 94% to98%, according to some studies. If proven effective, they say these dogs could be an asset to public health officials, who could place the skilled sniffers in high-traffic hubs including airports, train terminals and public events.Among the first to launch their canine-based coronavirus testing program: NASCAR. Race officials said Wednesday that they had hired the 360 K9 Group, based in Alabama and Florida, to monitor for infected guests during their most recent event — last Sunday’s Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway — and will continue the effort on a “trial basis” for Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. “We think that these dogs and this capability is going to allow us to rapidly confirm that all of those people entering the essential footprint on Sunday — that’s race teams, that’s NASCAR officials, that’s the vendors that work inside the garage — all those folks are COVID-free or not,” said Tom Bryant, NASCAR managing director of racing operations,in a statement on “The ability to do that has kind of been the math problem that we have continuously tried to solve since March of last year.” Researchers say these dogs can pinpoint coronavirus infections in “only one to two seconds,” according to Thai veterinarian Kaywalee Chatdarong, who led research on a group of Labrador retrievers. Their dog cohorts boast a coronavirus detection accuracy rate of 95%, they told Reuters Wednesday.

Human testing underway for COVID-19 vaccine developed by Army  -The U.S. Army began human testing on Tuesday for a COVID-19 vaccine that it developed as researchers aim to increase the effectiveness of inoculation against several variants of the virus. The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) said in a release that the first phase clinical trial will test 72 healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 55 who do not have a record of previous COVID-19 infection. The WRAIR vaccine is designed to build from the current vaccines that the Food and Drug Administration has already approved. Researchers created a nanoparticle experimental vaccine placing a copy of a protein found on COVID-19 to another protein called ferritin, which is typically seen in human blood. The release says this configuration “offers a flexible approach” for the body to fight several variants of COVID-19 and possibly other coronaviruses, which researchers said could improve a person’s protection from the virus. Pre-clinical trials determined that the Army-developed vaccine was successful in combating the three major COVID-19 variants as well as the main strain. In the upcoming clinical trial, a portion of participants will get one dose of the WRAIR vaccine, while others will receive two doses four weeks apart. The initial data will be documented two weeks after the second dose or six weeks after the first dose. Kayvon Modjarrad, director of the Emerging Infectious Diseases Branch at WRAIR and co-inventor of its vaccine, said his team was “concerned” about COVID-19 variants before several were discovered, including those found in the United Kingdom and South Africa. “That’s why we need a vaccine like this: one that has potential to protect broadly and proactively against multiple coronavirus species and strains,” he said in the release.

Johnson & Johnson takes over COVID-19 vaccine production at Baltimore plant after 15 million doses were ruined - Johnson & Johnson, with the aid of President Joe Biden's administration, has been put in charge of a Baltimore vaccine production plant that ruined 15 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine and has moved to stop British drugmaker AstraZeneca Plc from utilizing the facility to avoid any future mistakes, senior federal health officials said on Saturday. The extraordinary decision, which was first reported by The New York Times, was put into action by the US Department of Health and Human Services and will allow the Emergent BioSolutions plant to focus on making the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. Johnson & Johnson confirmed the move on Saturday, stating that it was "assuming full responsibility regarding the manufacturing of drug substance" at Emergent. "Specifically, the company is adding dedicated leaders for operations and quality, and significantly increasing the number of manufacturing, quality and technical operations personnel to work with the company specialists already at Emergent," Johnson & Johnson said in a statement. The change comes after the disclosure that Emergent, which is a manufacturing partner to both AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, mixed up ingredients from the two coronavirus vaccines in a case of human error, causing regulators to delay authorization of the facility's vaccine production. The mixup ruined nearly 15 million Johnson & Johnson doses. The error did not impact any vaccines that are currently being delivered or used, according to the Times report. The Biden administration has made note of the delay and has not shifted its stated goal of having enough vaccines for all adult Americans by the end of May. According to the Times report, federal officials are concerned that the mixup could dampen confidence in the vaccines just as Biden is aggressively pushing for mask mandates to remain in place as new COVID-19 variants spread throughout the US. Meanwhile, there are concerns about the two-dose AstraZeneca vaccine, which has had a troubled rollout in Europe due to a risk of rare blood clots possibly linked to the vaccine. However, the United Kingdom's drug regulator deemed the vaccine as safe. AstraZeneca said that it would work with the Biden administration to find an alternative site for its vaccine production, which has not yet been authorized in the US.

CEO of plant that bungled vaccine production received 51 percent pay increase in 2020 - The CEO of a plan that bungled production of 15 million Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine doses receive a 51 percent increase in compensation in 2020, according to a report from The Washington Post. Emergent Biosolutions CEO Robert Kramer received $5.6 million in 2020, according to a public filing reviewed by the Post on Friday. The company executive received an $893,000 salary, $1.4 million from stock options, $2.1 million from stock award and a $1.2 million bonus, according to the Post. According to the filing, the company increased Kramer's pay after the company’s manufacturing business expanded and the CEO responded to the pandemic. The company also reported a 41 percent increase in revenue in 2020. Kramer rose to CEO of the company in 2019, and has been with the company since 2012, according to the paper. Emergent saw that increase in growth last year mainly due to a federal contract that gave the company $628 million to help fight the coronavirus pandemic, according to the newspaper. The Post noted however that the bonuses came before the company's Maryland plant contaminated 15 million Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses. At the end of March, the issues surrounding vaccine production at the Emergent plant became public after the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was contaminated with ingredients from the AstraZeneca vaccine, according to the Post. AstraZeneca materials have been completely moved from the facility and Johnson & Johnson is taking charge of the oversight for the plant. The White House warned Friday that states will receive a substantially lower amount of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine over the coming weeks as a result of the mishap.

Vaccine Development, Covid-19, and mRNA vaccines -- The Incidental Economist (video w/ Dr Aaron Carroll) In this last episode of our six-part series on vaccinations, supported by the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation, we cover vaccine development – particularly in the context of the current global pandemic. We discuss the timeline of Covid-19 vaccine development and the mRNA vaccine approach.

New COVID Variants Have Changed the Game, and Vaccines Will Not Be Enough. We Need Global ‘Maximum Suppression --At the end of 2020, there was a strong hope that high levels of vaccination would see humanity finally gain the upper hand over SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. In an ideal scenario, the virus would then be contained at very low levels without further societal disruption or significant numbers of deaths.But since then, new “variants of concern” have emerged and spread worldwide, putting current pandemic control efforts, including vaccination, at risk of being derailed.There are currently at least three documented SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern:

  • B.1.351, first reported in South Africa in December 2020
  • B.1.1.7, first reported in the United Kingdom in December 2020
  • P.1, first identified in Japan among travellers from Brazil in January 2021.

Similar mutations are arising in different countries simultaneously, meaning not even border controls and high vaccination rates can necessarily protect countries from home-grown variants, including variants of concern, where there is substantial community transmission. If there are high transmission levels, and hence extensive replication of SARS-CoV-2, anywhere in the world, more variants of concern will inevitably arise and the more infectious variants will dominate. With international mobility, these variants will spread. South Africa’s experience suggests that past infection with SARS-CoV-2 offers only partial protection against the B.1.351 variant, and it is about 50% more transmissible than pre-existing variants. The B.1.351 variant has already been detected in at least 48 countries as of March 2021. Put simply, the game has changed, and a successful global rollout of current vaccines by itself is no longer a guarantee of victory.No one is truly safe from COVID-19 until everyone is safe. We are in a race against time to get global transmission rates low enough to prevent the emergence and spread of new variants. The danger is that variants will arise that can overcome the immunity conferred by vaccinations or prior infection. What’s more, many countries lack the capacity to track emerging variants via genomic surveillance. This means the situation may be even more serious than it appears.As members of the Lancet COVID-19 Commission Taskforce on Public Health, we call for urgent action in response to the new variants. These new variants mean we cannot rely on the vaccines alone to provide protection but must maintain strong public health measures to reduce the risk from these variants. At the same time, we need to accelerate the vaccine program in all countries in an equitable way.Together, these strategies will deliver “maximum suppression” of the virus.

COVID-19 antibodies appear to ward off B117 better than B1351 -COVID-19 survivors and those vaccinated against coronavirus appear able to fight off infection with the B117 SARS-CoV-2 variant but may not have the same level of protection against the B1351 variant, according to two new studies. In the first study, published late last week in Nature Medicine, researchers at Institut Pasteur in Paris isolated infectious B117, the variant first identified in the United Kingdom, and B1351, first discovered in South Africa, from the nasal swabs of symptomatic COVID-19 patients. Like some other emerging variants, B117 and B1351 are more infectious than previously dominant varieties, leading to fears that they could evade natural and vaccine-induced immunity.  The researchers tested the variants' susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 antibodies from serum samples from 58 patients infected with the previously circulating D614G reference strain (pseudovirus) and 19 people who had received two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA COVID-19 vaccine within the previous 6 weeks. Antibodies from patients who had recovered from the virus within the previous 9 months neutralized B117 as well as D614G. Samples collected after 9 months, however, showed a sixfold reduction in antibody concentrations, with 40% of the samples unable to neutralize B1351. Similarly, antibodies from people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 were also able to defend against B117 but less so against B1351, compared with D614G. While antibody levels rose overall after the second shot, anti-B1351 antibodies remained 14 times lower than those against D614G. SARS-CoV-2 antibodies were rarely observed in nasal swabs obtained from vaccinees.  "Our results indicate that B1.351, but not B.1.1.7, may increase the risk of infection in immunized individuals." The second study, led by researchers at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, and published today in Nature, used plasma from hospitalized adult COVID-19 patients to compare antibody responses to live B1351 virus and a reference SARS-CoV-2 strain from the first and second pandemic waves 1 month after symptom onset in July 2020 and January 2021, respectively. B1351 is now the dominant strain in South Africa. None of the 14 first-wave plasma donors were infected with B1351, which had infected all six second-wave donors. Antibodies from first-wave plasma donors neutralized the SARS-CoV-2 reference strain but had poor efficacy against B1351, with a 15.1-fold fall in neutralization compared with antibodies from second-wave donors. While antibodies from second-wave plasma donors effectively defended against both B1351 and the reference strain, they were 2.3-fold less effective against the reference strain than antibodies from first-wave donors. None of the second-wave donors had been infected with the reference strain during the first wave.

COVID treatments may be less effective on virus strain dominant on Maui - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said research shows that COVID treatments may not work as well on the variant dominant on Maui. The CDC said the California variant appears to have a “significant impact” on some of the current coronavirus treatments. This means that recovery treatment for patients who contract the virus may not be as effective. State health officials said the California variant is present in about 75% of Maui’s cases.. The mutation was first detected on Maui in early February. Health officials said they believe the California variant likely fueled the COVID outbreak at Maui Community Correctional Center. Although the mutation may affect certain COVID treatments, the CDC reported that California variant is not as infectious as other strains of the coronavirus. The CDC reported that the California variant is about 20% more transmissible than the standard strain of COVID-19, while the UK and South African mutations of the virus are roughly 50% more transmissible.

B.1.1.7 Coronavirus Variant Is Top Strain in Five U.S. Regions, CDC Says -  A more contagious strain of the coronavirus is now predominant in five U.S. regions and accounts for a quarter of new cases nationally, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. The B.1.1.7 variant, first uncovered in the U.K., makes up from 4% to 35% cases depending on the region, and 26% of cases nationally, Rochelle Walensky said at a press briefing Wednesday. U.S. officials had warned it could become the predominant strain of the virus in the U.S. by early April. “We’re watching this very carefully but it is starting to become the predominant variant in many U.S. regions,” Walensky said. “We’re starting to see it creep up. We do know it’s more transmissible, somewhere between 50% and 70% more transmissible than the wild type strain, so to the extent people are not practicing the standard mitigation strategies, we do think that more infections will result because of B.1.1.7.” Walensky didn’t specify in which regions the strain is now predominant. Mitigation measures such as masking and socially distancing work “just as well” against the variants as they do against the initial form of Covid-19, she said. The CDC director was asked whether the variant known scientifically as B.1.526, first found in New York and currently classified as a “variant of interest,” would be upgraded to a “variant of concern.” She said an inter-agency group that includes the CDC is looking into whether to reclassify it. Walensky began the briefing by renewing a plea for Americans to wear masks and avoid crowds and travel. The average number of new cases over the past seven days is up nearly 12% from the previous week, she said. On Monday, Walensky warned of “impending doom” and a possible fourth Covid wave as cases and hospitalizations rise again in the U.S., despite increasing vaccination levels.

 First confirmed US case of ‘double mutant’ COVID variant found in California. (KRON) — A new “double mutant” COVID-19 variant was identified and confirmed by scientists at Stanford Health last week. It now appears a handful of people may have contracted this strain, which features two mutations from the original version which swept the globe. Confirmation of the newly described variant came from Stanford Health’s Clinic Virology Lab, Senior Manager of Media Relations Lisa Kim told Nexstar’s KRON. The double mutation is believed to have originated in India. Stanford Health believes theirs is the first confirmed case in the United States. This variant has the L452R mutation, which has recently caused massive outbreaks in California, but also another significant spike mutation, E484Q. One confirmed case was identified by sequencing at Stanford, but seven presumptive cases are being screened, according to hospital officials. It’s not known yet whether this variant is more infectious or resistant to vaccine antibodies. The Stanford researchers have started screening hundreds of viral samples collected from people across the Bay Area, with plans to ramp up significantly in the coming days. They also began sequencing whole viral genomes to identify new mutations as they arise in key viral proteins. “In most cases, it is too early to say whether or how these variants will influence the course of the pandemic, but it is important to monitor their evolution and spread,” said Benjamin Pinsky, M.D., Ph.D, associate professor of pathology and of infectious diseases at the Stanford School of Medicine. “Our surveillance testing is specifically designed to allow large-scale screening of viral samples to identify specific strains circulating in the Bay Area and throughout California.” The new variant found in India has two mutations in the spiky protein that the virus uses to fasten itself to cells, said Dr. Rakesh Mishra, the director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, one of the 10 research institutes sequencing the virus. He added that these genetic tweaks could be of concern since they might help the virus spread more easily and escape the immune system, but he cautioned against linking it to any surge at this point.

Highly contagious COVID strain unknowingly spread in 15 countries - study -  A new study has found that a previously undetected strain of thecoronavirus spread into 15 countries, including the United States, unknowingly for months, according to a study published by the Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. Included in the study's collaborations are: WHO Collaborating Centre for Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Control, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China ; Laboratory of Data Discovery for Health, Hong Kong ; University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK ; The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, USA ; Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA.  Researchers discovered that the variant first appeared in the United Kingdom in early December 2020, later spreading to the US, Ireland, France, Greece, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Romania, Poland, Turkey, Cyprus, Portugal and India. "By the time we learned about the UK variant in December, it was already silently spreading across the globe," said Lauren Ancel Meyers, the director of the COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at The University of Texas at Austin and a professor of integrative biology, in a statement to UT News."We estimate that the B117 variant probably arrived in the US by October of 2020, two months before we knew it existed," she added.In terms of the impact of the study, Meyers said that "This study highlights the importance of laboratory surveillance.""Rapid and extensive sequencing of virus samples is critical for early detection and tracking of new variants of concern," she noted.

Stressed, Exhausted: Frontline Workers Faced Big Mental Strain in Pandemic - -- Doctors, nurses and other frontline health workers in U.S. emergency departments have struggled with significant mental health challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new poll reveals. "As the nation moves into what many believe is a fourth wave of COVID, this study is important to our understanding of the impact of the pandemic on the mental well-being of frontline medical personnel," said lead author Dr. Robert Rodriguez, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. His team surveyed about 1,600 physicians, nurses, advanced practice providers, social workers and other personnel at 20 U.S. emergency departments between May and July of 2020. Survey respondents reported high stress levels, emotional exhaustion, insomnia and nightmares. The results also revealed that nearly one-fifth were at increased risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Their greatest concerns included exposing loved ones or others to the virus, the well-being of co-workers diagnosed with COVID-19, and patients with an unclear diagnosis who might expose others in the community. The study found that regular COVID-19 testing helped reduce stress levels, particularly among those who had previously tested positive for coronavirus antibodies. The survey participants were from emergency department staffs in 16 cities in Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas. The findings were published April 9 in the journal Annals of Emergency Medicine. "We found that feelings of work-related anxiety, emotional exhaustion and burnout were prevalent across the full spectrum of emergency department staff," Rodriguez said in a university news release. "Emergency department personnel serve as the initial hospital caregivers for the majority of critically ill patients with known or suspected COVID-19 infection," Rodriguez said. "Protecting and maintaining the health of the emergency department workforce is imperative in the ongoing battle against COVID-19."

More Than 3,600 US Health Workers Died in Pandemic Year One: Report --More than 3,600 US health workers died in the first year of the pandemic, a yearlong investigation has found.The Guardian and Kaiser Health News found that as of April 2021, 3,607 healthcare workers had died, and that many of the deaths could have been prevented with proper personal protective equipment.The outlets found that nonwhite healthcare workers and lower-paid workers were also more likely to due during the pandemic.There is no official US government list of healthcare worker deaths.Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious-disease expert, told The Guardian that he believes the federal government should, at some point, compile such a list: "We certainly want to find an accurate count of the people who die."He also said that healthcare worker deaths were increased by shortages of PPE.

Epidemiologist warns that the fourth COVID-19 surge is underway - Leading US epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy in Minneapolis, gave a stark warning of a devastating new stage of the COVID-19 pandemic in interviews Sunday on two national television networks. Dr. Osterholm explained the context and real dangers hinted at in the statement by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when she declared last Monday that she was afraid and felt a sense of “impending doom” about the pandemic. On Sunday, speaking with host Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press,” Osterholm said, “At this time, we are in a category five hurricane status with regard to the rest of the world. At this point, we will see in the next two weeks the highest number of cases reported globally since the beginning of the pandemic … I think it was a wake-up call to everyone yesterday when Michigan reported 8,400 new cases and we are now seeing increasing numbers of severe illnesses, ICU [cases] and hospitalizations in individuals who are between 30 and 50 years of age who have not been vaccinated.” After discussing the concerns posed by the rise in more virulent and immune-evading variants, Osterholm explained, “Chuck, I’m even more worried what’s coming down the pike over the next several years. Right now, if you look at vaccine distribution around the world, ten countries have received about 80 percent of the vaccines. Thirty countries haven’t seen even a drop of it. If we continue to see this virus spread across low- and middle-income countries unfettered, they are going to spit out variants over the course of the next years that can in every and each instance challenge our vaccines. This is why we need not only a US response, but we also need a global response to get as many people vaccinated.” Globally, the number of cases of COVID-19 is approaching 132 million, and the number of deaths over 2.8 million. The seven-day average in daily cases and fatalities has climbed to 581,000 and more than 10,000, respectively. With 40 million total cases, Europe sees more than 3,000 deaths per day with the total number of fatalities approaching one million. Poland, Turkey, and Ukraine face severe struggles as they are in the worst phase of their surges. India’s COVID-19 cases are rapidly accelerating and will exceed 100,000 new cases per day this week, the country's highest total during the pandemic. Brazil appears to have reached its peak with 3,000 deaths per day. Meanwhile, the US seven-day average has been slowly rising, with over 66,000 new cases per day. Cases in the upper Midwest and Northeast have public health officials worried. Speaking on Fox News, Osterholm was blunt in dismissing the actions of state and federal governments in relaxing restrictions and reopening schools, particularly in light of the spread of new variants like B.1.1.7.

 Biden’s school reopening drive fuels fourth surge of pandemic in the US - Over the past week, it has become abundantly clear that K-12 schools are one of the leading sources for the spread of COVID-19 throughout the US. The Biden administration’s criminal pursuit of reopening the majority of all schools by the end of April, a goal which has already been reached, is now fueling the deepening surge of more infectious and lethal variants that are taking hold throughout the country. At present, only 18.5 percent of the American population is fully vaccinated, meaning that the current surge will intensify in the coming weeks and will soon produce another wave of deaths throughout the country.The B.1.1.7 UK variant, which is 50 percent more transmissible than wild-type SARS-CoV-2, is becoming dominant throughout much of the Upper Midwest and Northeast regions. The situation is most dire in Michigan, Minnesota, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Connecticut, all of which reopened the majority of K-12 schools for in-person learning by March or earlier. In Michigan, where 82 percent of students are in schools that offer fully in-person learning, those under 10 years old are the second fastest rising group of COVID-19 cases, up 238 percent over the past month, with those aged 10–19 seeing the highest increase in cases.What is unfolding is premeditated mass murder, which has been orchestrated by the White House, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the corporate media and the teachers unions, all of whom have conspired to distort science and stifle educators’ opposition in order to reopen schools everywhere on behalf of the ruling class. The primary motive behind this policy is to enable parents to return to unsafe workplaces in order to produce corporate profits.Throughout the pandemic, there has been no federal program to monitor COVID-19 infections and deaths tied to K-12 schools, with each district and state left to its own devices. Nearly 3.5 million children have been infected with the virus in the US, with unknown long-term repercussions. Education Week notes that as of March 29, 2021, at least 913 active and retired K-12 educators and personnel have died of COVID-19, of whom 257 were active teachers. While damning in themselves, these figures on infections and deaths are undoubtedly significant undercounts.Similarly, there is no federal tracking of what type of instruction students are receiving—fully remote learning, fully in-person, or the unsafe “hybrid” model, which combines the two. According to data compiled by Burbio, the percentage of students learning remotely has decreased from 54.7 percent in mid-January—just before Biden’s inauguration on January 20—to 16.3 percent today. Of that 38.4 percentage point decline in students learning safely from home, 16.1 percent have moved to a hybrid model (now 30.6 percent of all students) and 22.3 percent resumed fully in-person learning (now 53.1 percent of all students).

These 5 states have nearly half of nation's new COVID-19 cases - Five states account for nearly half of all new COVID-19 cases in the United States.According to data from Johns Hopkins University, New York, Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey make up 44 percent of all new infections in the U.S. between March 29 and April 4, or about 197,500 cases out of about 452,000 cases nationwide.New York is the top hot spot, recording 52,922 cases last week, averaging about 7560 new cases per day, which is about 12 percent of the U.S.’s total cases.Next up is Michigan, recording 47,036 new cases last week, an average of 6,719 per day. Meanwhile, Florida came in third with 37,927 cases, and Pennsylvania and New Jersey averaging about 29,847 and 29,753 new cases, respectively.  Together, these five states account for 22 percent of the U.S. population.Amid the recent surges, some government officials in the hot spots have called on the White House to supply the states with additional vaccine shipments. However, President Biden’s policy has been to divide the vaccine supply to states based on population and hasn’t indicated he will do otherwise. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is among the elected officials calling for additional vaccine doses, telling reporters on Tuesday, “We still need supply, supply, supply.” But a professor in infectious diseases at Washington University told the Associated Press dividing the vaccine supply comes down to a judgment call. “You wouldn’t want to make those folks wait because they were doing better,” Elvin H. Geng said. “On the other hand, it only makes sense to send vaccines to where the cases are rising.”

Coronavirus dashboard for April 5: the problematic cases of Chile . . . and Michigan (5 graphs) As you probably already know, the news on the vaccination front continues to be good, as the US is now administering on average over 3 million doses a day - and still climbing. At this rate of improvement, every adult in the US could be vaccinated by Memorial Day at the end of next month. One bit of not so good news is that the percentage of seniors who have received at least one dose has almost stalled out at roughly 75%. For example, yesterday that percentage improved by exactly 0.1%. If 1/4 of even the most vulnerable population simply refuses to be vaccinated, we are not going to achieve herd immunity. Further, while in the past few weeks I have been highlighting the success stories in vaccination, particularly in Israel and the UK, there are a number of counter-examples that I want to examine today. First of all, Chile. Chile has administered even more doses per capita than the US, equivalent to about 55% of its population vs. 50% for the US. And yet both cases, and with about a 4 week delay, deaths, have both risen about 50% from the date that vaccinations started to be administered: It’s possible that Chile’s trend is being affected by the fact that it is in the Southern Hemisphere and has entered autumn. But there are several other countries, in the Northern Hemisphere, that are among the top 10 per capita for administering vaccines among more populous countries, who are undergoing similar surges - Turkey, France, Belgium, and Poland: Cases are up 50% to 100%, in the case of Turkey, since the vaccination programs began. The situation, alas, is similar in some US States, particularly Michigan, NJ and NY, where despite doses equivalent to about 1/2 of their populations having been administered, cases have risen by about 10% in NY, 20% in NJ, and 500% (not a typo!) in Michigan: Deaths in NY and NJ have not risen, at least not yet, but they have plateaued: And in the case of Michigan, deaths have followed cases by 28 days both on the way down, and now on the way back up: This week is going to be the acid test for Michigan, because it was 4 weeks ago that cases started to really increase exponentially. If deaths follow this week, then by the end of this month Michigan could be back to its worst levels of the entire pandemic. What this means, I think, is that relaxing too early - even with a large percentage of the population having received at least one dose of the vaccine - can lead to renewed severe outbreaks. We really, really, really need to get close to herd immunity levels in the next month or two.

More reports highlight undercounting of Florida COVID-19 deaths - Last month, an investigative report released by the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) found that Florida is dramatically undercounting the number of people who are dying from COVID-19, by thousands of cases. Florida has been one of the leading epicenters for the spread of the virus in the US, with well over 2 million infections and more than 33,000 deaths. The analysis released by AJPH was aimed at ascertaining the number of excess deaths occurring in Florida since the COVID-19 pandemic struck the state in March 2020. This meant assessing those deaths exceeding historical or previous trends after accounting for COVID-19 deaths, with special emphasis placed on forecasting monthly deaths from January to September of 2020 if the pandemic had not occurred. A comparison was then conducted with monthly recorded total deaths during the pandemic and deaths only from the virus. Results from the research suggested that Florida saw 19,241 additional people die between March and September of 2020, a staggering 15.5 percent increase in deaths for the seven-month interval. Of the excess death totals, 14,317 of them had been COVID-19 deaths not logged into the state’s official coronavirus tracker and 4,924 other deaths, excluding COVID-19. The study concluded that the impact of COVID-19 on mortality is significantly greater than the official COVID-19 data suggests. AJPH’s findings add further insight into the far-reaching and deadly impact the pandemic has had on the state while adding damning evidence discrediting claims made by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and Florida Department of Health officials that the official numbers on COVID-19 deaths paint an accurate picture. In recent weeks, DeSantis and state officials have seized on the declining rate of infections to celebrate the government’s handling of the pandemic, even though Florida stubbornly remains the third-highest state for total COVID-19 cases, behind only California and Texas. Data drawn from the AJPH report underscores the falsity of claims that Florida has contained the pandemic and the state government has succeeded in reducing mortality. Furthermore, official state data has been exploited to pursue politically motivated and homicidal policies, such as the complete lifting of lockdown measures and the back-to-school campaign to resume in-person learning. Florida’s state officials have been some of the most enthusiastic proponents for these policies while showing utter indifference to the health and safety of the population. Public health scientists have noted one of the main contributors to the undercounting of deaths nationwide was the severe lack of testing and contact tracing in the early months of 2020, a result of the deliberate suppression of information on the part of the government and corporate media.

 April 6th COVID-19 Vaccinations, New Cases, Hospitalizations - According to the CDC, 168.6 million doses have been administered. 24.4% of the population over 18 is fully vaccinated, and 41.7% of the population over 18 has had at least one dose (107.6 million people have had at least one dose). And check out COVID Act Now to see how each state is doing.  Almost 3,500 US deaths were reported so far in April due to COVID. This graph shows the daily (columns) 7 day average (line) of positive tests reported.Note: The ups and downs during the Winter surge were related to reporting delays due to the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. This data is from the CDC. The 7-day average is 63,478, up from 63,095 yesterday, and close to the summer surge peak of 67,337 on July 23, 2020. The second graph shows the number of people hospitalized. This data is also from the CDC. The CDC cautions that due to reporting delays, the area in grey will probably increase. The current 7-day average is 34,279, down from 32,773 reported yesterday, and well above the post-summer surge low of 23,000.

Amid warning of a new U.S. wave, eyes are turning to a spike in the Upper Midwest. NYT - As states lift restrictions and worrisome coronavirus variants spread, scientists and federal health officials have been warning that a new wave of cases could arise in the United States even as the nation’s vaccination campaign gathers speed. The seeds of such a surge may now be sprouting in the Upper Midwest and the Northeast.Michigan is already in tough shape. New cases and hospitalizations there have more than doubled in the last two weeks. The six metro areas in the United States with the greatest number of new cases relative to their population are all in Michigan.Several other states in the Upper Midwest, including Minnesota and Illinois, have also reported significant increases in new cases and hospitalizations. And in the Northeast, New York and New Jersey have continued to see elevated case counts.While new cases, hospitalizations and deaths nationwide have declined from their peaks in January, new infections have increased after plateauing.Further progress in reducing new cases has stalled, hospitalizations have leveled off, and deaths remain near an average of about 800 a day, according to a New York Times database. The average number of new cases has reached nearly 65,000 a day, as of Tuesday, up 19 percent from two weeks ago.Scientists are particularly concerned about the rising prevalence of variants, which they say could draw out the pandemic. On Wednesday, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a highly infectious variant that was first identified in Britain has now become the most common source of new infections in the United States.That variant, B.1.1.7, has been found to be most prevalent in Michigan, Florida, Colorado, California, Minnesota and Massachusetts, according to the C.D.C. Until recently, the variant’s rise was somewhat camouflaged by falling rates of infection over all, lulling Americans into a false sense of security and leading to prematurely relaxed restrictions, researchers say.The C.D.C.’s efforts to track down variants have substantially improved in recent weeks and will continue to grow, in large part because of the $1.75 billion in funds for genomic sequencing in the stimulus package that President Biden signed into law. By contrast, Britain, with a more centralized health care system, began a highly touted sequencing program last year that allowed it to track the spread of the B.1.1.7 variant. Michigan’s troubles drew attention at a White House news conference on the pandemic on Wednesday. The C.D.C. director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said a team from her agency was in the state working to assess outbreaks in correctional facilities, and to boost testing among participants in youth sports. And Andy Slavitt, a senior health policy adviser to President Biden, said the administration had not ruled out sending extra vaccine doses to Michigan. Other states, including Minnesota, could soon follow Michigan’s path. Minnesota is averaging 1,826 new cases a day, according to a New York Times database. It surpassed 2,000 new confirmed cases on April 1, a daily figure not seen since early January. Hospitalizations have also climbed about 41 percent from two weeks earlier.

Hospitals are seeing more young adults with severe Covid symptoms, CDC says --Hospitals are seeing more and more younger adults in their 30s and 40s admitted with severe cases of Covid-19, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday."Data suggests this is all happening as we are seeing increasing prevalence of variants, with 52 jurisdictions now reporting cases of variants of concern," Walensky said at a press briefing on the pandemic.Scientists say new variants of the coronavirus are more transmittable and some of them may be more lethal as well, resulting in more severe cases.The highly contagious B.1.1.7 variant from the United Kingdom has become the dominant strain circulating in the United States, Walensky said.Walensky previously warned that traveling for spring break could lead to another rise in cases, especially in Florida where the variant was rapidly spreading."I'm pleading with you, for the sake of our nation's health," Walensky said at a briefing last month. "Cases climbed last spring, they climbed again in the summer, they will climb now if we stop taking precautions when we continue to get more and more people vaccinated." The B.1.1.7 variant has since spread and now accounts for more than 16,000 cases across 52 jurisdictions in the country. The variant is about 50% more transmissible than the original wild strain of the coronavirus.

Fauci says new Covid-19 cases are at a disturbing level as the US is primed for a surge  --The number of new Covid-19 cases has plateaued at a "disturbingly high level," and the US is at risk from a new surge, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned on Wednesday. While lower than the peak earlier this year, there were still more than 61,000 new cases reported on Wednesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. And the lack of continued significant decreases in infections is a concern, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told CNN's Anderson Cooper, particularly given the spread of variants. "It's almost a race between getting people vaccinated and this surge that seems to want to increase," Fauci said, noting Europe is experiencing a spike much like the one experts worry about for the US.The US is vaccinating people quickly, with more than 33% of the population -- more than 112 million people -- having received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About a quarter of US adults -- more than 66 million people -- are fully vaccinated.Those vaccines may be behind the decrease in Covid-19 fatalities, CDCDirector Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday.But the pace of getting vaccines into the arms of Americans will need to keep increasing now that the virus variant first identified in the United Kingdom, known to be more transmissible and believed to be more deadly, is the most common strain in the US, Walensky said.To fight the variant, Fauci urged Americans to get vaccinated and stick to preventative measures."Hang in there a bit longer," he said. "Now is not the time, as I've said so many times, to declare victory prematurely."

More contagious COVID strain found in the Panhandle --The B117 COVID variant has been confirmed in the Panhandle. Confirmation was received late last week of a teen male, teen female, and female in her 30s from the Nebraska Public Health Lab testing and notification from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. Any close contacts identified will be quarantined to slow the spread. This variant was initially detected in the UK and in the U.S. this past December. This variant seems to spread more easily and quickly than other variants which may lead to more COVID cases with the potential for increased severity. Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. So far, studies suggest that antibodies generated through vaccination with currently authorized vaccines recognize these variants. This is being closely investigated and more studies are underway. “Finding this strain in the Panhandle reinforces the importance of getting your COVID vaccine. Consider it your molecular PPE and one of the best protection against this insidious virus. Now that it’s available to anyone over 18, we urge you to get it,” said Kim Engel, Panhandle Public Health District Director.

Michigan signals the emergence of a B.1.1.7 pandemic in the United States --Michigan is at the tip of the spear when it comes to the fourth surge of the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 5, 2021, the number of new COVID-19 cases in Michigan reached 11,317, the highest number since November 27, 2020, during the winter surge. The seven-day moving average stands at 6,431 daily COVID-19 cases, up nearly six-fold from its lows in mid-February. The positivity rate on tests has climbed to 17 percent, meaning that 17 of every 100 COVID-19 tests confirm a new infection, up from a low of 3.1 percent more than a month ago.Based on genetic testing, health officials estimated that 70 percent of new Michigan cases are caused by the B.1.1.7 variant, also known as the UK variant, which devastated southeast England last December and has since crossed the Atlantic and become the dominant variant in Florida and much of the Northeast and Midwest. In every state where estimates place the B.1.1.7 variant as dominant strain, cases are rising.The surge is so evidently dangerous that even the waffling director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rochelle Walensky, has suggested that Michigan should adopt stronger restrictions to stem the tide of new infections. During Wednesday’s briefing, she said, “I would advocate for sort of a stronger mitigation strategies, as you know, to sort of decrease the community activity, ensure mask-wearing, and we’re working closely with the state to try and work towards that.”With hospitalization in the state rapidly climbing in concert with the rise in cases, far more urgent measures are required. Walensky’s statement, a mere suggestion, runs counter to the demands of the public health emergency driven by the new B.1.1.7 variant. What is happening in Michigan amounts to a new pandemic in the US, with a more transmissible and lethal strain of the coronavirus.The state’s hospitalizations have jumped 360 percent since February 28, with several regions’ ICU capacities having reached their limit. According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), the age group with the highest growth rate in hospitalization has been those 50 to 59 years of age, with a 653 percent increase.Those between 40 to 49 years of age have seen a 503 percent increase. Though the actual numbers are small, those between the age of 18 and 29 have seen a 400 percent increase. Only pediatric cases and those 70 years or older have had relatively small rises in hospital admissions. In the case of the elderly, this has been attributed to the vaccination campaign.The first B.1.1.7 variant in Michigan was detected on January 16, 2021. By February 28, the number of cases found in genetic tests—a small sample of the total—had reached 336. This figure rose to 1,237 on April 1 and jumped to 1,998 by April 7, accounting for 70 percent of all cases subjected to genetic testing.

U.K. variant has become most dominant COVID-19 strain in United States - – The COVID-19 variant that originated in the United Kingdom now is responsible for the majority of new COVID cases. New data from the CDC shows that the UK variant cases more than doubled from late February, going from 11 percent to 27 percent. Also this week, five new cases of a double mutant coronavirus strain were reported in San Francisco. Although the variants are more infectious, all three mainstream vaccines in the U.S. are showing to be protective against them. “We still see decrease in hospitalizations in those who are vaccinated, so although it’s still preliminary information it does seem the vaccine protects you from these variants,” said Dr. Esteban DelPilar, Infectious Disease Physician for Baystate Health. The Brazilian strain is the most common variant in Massachusetts, and when it comes to how this one and others affect us, it’s pretty much the same as the original COVID-19 strain. The only difference being more young people are contracting the variants. “You can get shortness of breath, fever, chills,” said Dr. Esteban DelPilar, Infectious Disease Physician for Baystate Health. “The only thing is, we are seeing younger people getting it and we think the variants are playing into this.” An increase in travel and relaxing on COVID-19 restrictions are to blame for rising variant case numbers with the younger population. Adults 16 and older are also not eligible to receive the vaccine yet in Massachusetts. That’ll change April 19 when the state moves to the final phase of the vaccination plan. As of now, nearly half of all U.S. adults have had at least their first dose of the vaccine.

 Double-mutant Covid: Researchers identify five new cases of variant in California --Stanford University researchers have identified five new cases of a "double mutant" Covid-19 strain that was recently discovered in the San Francisco Bay Area. Doctors suspect it could be more contagious than earlier strains and may be resistant to existing vaccines. The new variant originated in India where it's credited with a recent 55% surge in cases in the state of Maharashtra, home to Mumbai, after months of declining cases. It contains two key mutations, which scientists call E484Q and L452R, that have been found separately in other variants but not together in a single strain, according to Dr. Benjamin Pinsky, medical director of Stanford's clinical virology laboratory, which discovered the new variant in the U.S. "There's a decent amount of information of how these mutations behave in viruses on their own, but not in combination," Pinsky said in an interview. In other variants, the L452R mutation has been shown to make the virus more transmissible. There is also evidence that antibodies don't recognize that mutation, which has been found in other strains to reduce the effectiveness of vaccines. The E484Q mutation has also been shown to be less susceptible to neutralizing antibodies, which help fight the coronavirus. It's still too early to tell if the mutation makes the virus more contagious. "But you'd expect that in combination with L452R that there may be an increase in transmission as well as reduction in antibody neutralization," Pinsky said. If the mutation makes the virus more resistant to antibodies, that could reduce the effectiveness of both vaccines as well as antibody treatments that have become a critical tool for doctors in fighting Covid-19, according to Pinsky. "I suspect that existing vaccines will be slightly less effective in preventing infection by this new variant," he said, "but all of the vaccines are extremely effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths." Eli Lilly's bamlanivimab antibody treatment has been shown to be less effective in treating strains that contain the E484Q or L452R mutations. U.S. health regulators halted distribution of that antibody treatment last month, saying it wasn't that effective against the new variants. The double mutant variant "has known mutations in the scariest place to have a mutation — the receptor binding domain, where the virus uses to latch on to cells in our bodies in order to enter," said Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious diseases expert at the University of California San Francisco. "The mutations are either identical or eerily similar to mutations in variants that we already know about that have been scientifically proven to be more transmissible and/or evade vaccines. Hence many believe that this Indian variant will also have these superpowers."

COVID-19 variant strains in Nueces County --  City-County Public Health Director Annette Rodriguez tells 3News that this week, the county was notified of eight cases of another variant strain, the B.1.1.7, which is said to be very transmissible. This brings the total variant case count to 11 in Nueces County. So how effective are the vaccines we currently have in battling these strains? Rodriguez said the Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccine has been proven to be more effective in protecting against the variant strain of COVID-19 such as the South African strain B.1.351. The Moderna vaccine has shown to be been less effective against that strain. "Have we identified any South African in Nueces?' Rodriguez said. "Not yet, but we believe it will be here soon because we know in Texas, there is less than 10 cases of the B.1.351 and it spreads very rapidly." Rodriguez encourages the community to continue coming out to get vaccinated and to protect children who are still unvaccinated at this time.

Dane County child care center COVID-19 outbreak includes variant strain -- A COIVD-19 outbreak at a Dane County childcare facility resulted in 35 confirmed cases, with many close contacts to be tested in the near future. According to a news release from Public Health Madison and Dane County, 21 children and child care workers have tested positive, along with 14 family members. PHMDC did not identify the center where the outbreak took place. Tests identified the B.1.1.7 strain that was first detected in the UK as part of the outbreak, but the release said most of the children diagnosed presented only mild symptoms. "We have let the center know that part of the outbreak at least included the B.1.1.7 variant which is likely the reason we saw spread happen so quickly," PHMDC Director Janel Heinrich said. As all Wisconsinites 16 and older are now eligible for vaccines, PHMDC encourages everyone to get vaccinated as soon as possible. "Get tested if you are showing any symptoms, get your children tested if they are showing symptoms, and get vaccinated as soon as you can. The vaccines are highly effective against severe disease and death from COVID-19 infection, even with the most prevalent variants,” Heinrich said. Heinrich says adult vaccinations also protect children. "Really encourage people to get vaccinated , providing that cocoon effect around the child," she says. Heinrich notes the symptoms of COVID-19 or its variants can mimic other conditions. "Some of the symptoms that pop up in our young ages are quite similar to those that you might think are related to allergies," Heinrich says. "But we don't want people to make any assumptions while we know that testing and and isolation and quarantine could really help minimize that risk." Data shows Wisconsin with 139 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, with Minnesota's case count nearly four times as high, and Michigan's total eight times higher than in Wisconsin.

U.K. COVID-19 variant soon expected to be dominant in Ohio — Ohio Department of Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff says he expects the U.K. B117 variant of COVID-19 to be the dominant strain circulating in Ohio in the next two weeks. Dr. Vanderhoff made the comments during Gov. Mike DeWine's COVID-19 press briefing on Thursday. "As we progress into April, it’s clear that Ohio and the nation are enduring yet another wave of COVID-19, but as you noted, this time it’s being driven by the new variants of the original virus," Vanderhoff said. "In addition, evidence continues to mount that B117, along with other variants, is not only more contagious, it’s also more deadly." "B117 alone, which really seems to have been the variant driving the wave both nationally, and in Michigan, accounts for the lions’ share of our total," Vanderhoff added. "Quite frankly, I think within the next couple of weeks, the variant will be the virus that we are dealing with." Vanderhoff said variant counts jumped from just 92 cases on March 12, to 797 cases today. In Ohio, the B117 and two variants first seen in California account for 95% of variant detections in the state, as of Wednesday. The B117 variant accounts for about a third of cases nationwide. Ohio tests a subset of COVID tests for the virus variants. There are a limited number of labs that are capable of performing the genetic analysis on the COVID tests that come in. "Our spring surge of variants here in Ohio is, in fact, happening in a better context than what the U.K. endured this winter," Vanderhoff said, "because of our very successful vaccination effort." As of Wednesday, 1/3 of Ohioans had been vaccinated for COVID-19. You can watch Gov. DeWine's entire press conference in the player below.

COVID-19 variant strains driving Wisconsin case rise -- In the race against COVID-19, a new opponent is gaining steam in Wisconsin. More people are being vaccinated, but Wisconsin health officials say the state is also seeing a steepening increase in cases. Health officials said it is only a matter of a few weeks before the B.1.1.7 variant -- also known as the U.K. variant -- becomes the dominant strain in Wisconsin. The CDC director said Wednesday that B.1.1.7 is already the dominant strain nationally. "The CDC has identified five variants of concern," said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer with the Wisconsin DHS Bureau of Communicable Diseases. "All five of these strains are currently in Wisconsin." Officials said more contagious and more dangerous strains of the coronavirus are contributing a 100% increase in the state's seven-day average number of cases over the past month. Westergaard said cases are increasing most rapidly among children. "We are in a new phase of the epidemic that is clearly worse than it was before and it's transmission among young people who are driving the change and the curve," Westergaard said. Despite the uptick, hospitalizations have remained low. It is an indicator, Westergaard said, that the vaccine is working. While people ages 65 and older are most at risk of serious illness from the virus, more than 75% of seniors have received at least their first shot.

UK variant has become most dominant COVID strain in US, CDC says - ABC News The more contagious variant of coronavirus that was identified in the UK, the B-117 variant, has become the dominant strain in the U.S., CDC director Rochelle Walensky said on Wednesday. "Based on our most recent estimates from CDC surveillance, the B-117 variant is now the most common lineage circulating in the United States," Walensky told reporters at a White House briefing. Walensky’s comment was on schedule with previous predictions that the B-117 variant would become the more dominant strain by late March or early April. Walensky did not specify on Wednesday just how dominant the B-117 variant is, but a spokesperson at the CDC said she was referring to preliminary data that has not yet been released but shows B-117 is the most dominant strain. That tracks with the latest available CDC data on cases through March 13, which shows the percentage of B-117 cases more than doubled from late February to mid-March. In late February, the B-117 variant accounted for around 11% of all cases but by mid-March that had jumped to 27%. Experts believe the B-117 variant is more contagious and likely more deadly, which could help explain why its increasing prevalence in the U.S. has coincided with a rise in cases despite the speed of vaccinations, which have proven effective against the variant. "We know that these increases are due, in part, to more highly transmissible variants, which we are very closely monitoring," Walensky said at a White House briefing earlier this week. On Wednesday, the CDC reported an average of 62,000 cases a day over the last seven days.

April 9th COVID-19 Vaccinations, New Cases, Hospitalizations -- According to the CDC, 178.8 million doses have been administered. 26.4% of the population over 18 is fully vaccinated, and 44.1% of the population over 18 has had at least one dose (113.7 million people have had at least one dose).And check out COVID Act Now to see how each state is doing.   Almost 5,500 US deaths were reported so far in April due to COVID. This graph shows the daily (columns) 7 day average (line) of positive tests reported. Note: The ups and downs during the Winter surge were related to reporting delays due to the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.This data is from the CDC. The 7-day average is 64,393, up from 64,344 yesterday, and close to the summer surge peak of 67,337 on July 23, 2020.The second graph shows the number of people hospitalized. This data is also from the CDC. The CDC cautions that due to reporting delays, the area in grey will probably increase. The current 7-day average is 35,187, up from 34,883 reported yesterday, and well above the post-summer surge low of 23,000.

As the U.S. Vaccinates Millions for Covid-19, Most Canadians Are Still Waiting - WSJ  -The U.S. economy is opening up and Covid-19 vaccines are increasingly available. But its neighbor to the north has had one of the slowest vaccine rollouts among developed economies, and is now imposing new lockdowns to stem a surge in infections.Canada’s lockdowns come as new, more contagious variants of the coronavirus have taken hold in the country. The rapid spread of the B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in the U.K., and P.1 variant, which originated in Brazil, has forced authorities in Canada’s biggest provinces to impose new stay-at-home orders and in some cases, shut down schools.The country’s vaccine rollout, stymied by supply-chain problems and a lack of coordination at the federal and provincial levels, contrasts with its initial, aggressive response to securing doses earlier in the pandemic. Canada clinched deals with eight vaccine makers, the bulk of them completed before late last year, for access to as much as 404 million doses—the most doses per capita of any advanced economy.But Canada has been slow to get those shots into people’s arms, and Canadians have watched with envy the progress in the U.S.Data collected by the University of Oxford’s Our World in Data shows Canada had provided one or more doses to about 16% of its population as of Tuesday, whereas the U.S. had covered 32% of its population, the U.K. was at 47% and Israel had reached 61%.

‘It’s in the Interest of Everyone in the US to Vaccinate the World as Quickly as Possible’  MP3 and transcript - The availability of Covid vaccines at corner drugstores, here in New York City and elsewhere, reports that nursing homes in the US are seeing steep declines in new Covid cases after being prioritized for vaccines, and maybe just the arrival of spring, have many folkshopeful that we’re nearing the end of the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. But, as ever, we have to ask, who’s “we,”exactly?UN Secretary General António Guterres was among those complaining in February that 10 countries have monopolized 75% of the world’s Covid-19 vaccines; meanwhile, people in more than 130 countries were yet to receive a single dose.For many people, the pandemic was undeniable evidence of what is always true: that we are interdependent, physically as well as societally; that while problems can be global, protections are not; and that when profit making and public health collide, you need to pick a side. What stands in the way of our using that awareness to shape global access to vaccines? Joining us now by phone is Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines Program. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Peter Maybarduk.

An emergency program to stop the global new wave of COVID-19! - Over the past two months, daily new COVID-19 cases around the world have surged by more than 60 percent, driven by more dangerous and deadly variants of the disease. Within weeks, public health experts warn, the number of global daily new cases, now at nearly 600,000, will reach the highest levels since the start of the pandemic. In many countries this is already the case. On Saturday, India reached 100,000 daily new COVID-19 cases, the highest number ever and a nine-fold increase since the start of 2021. France had a record 60,922 daily new cases on Sunday. Turkey had 41,000, a seven-fold increase in a matter of months. In Ukraine, over 400 people are dying every day, and only 250,000 out of a population of 40 million have received a first dose of the vaccine. In Poland, infections are now 60 times higher than at the start of the pandemic. Throughout Eastern Europe, hospitals are full, and health experts in Germany and France warn that their health systems will be totally overwhelmed within a matter of weeks. In Brazil, with nearly 3,000 deaths a day, hospitals and morgues are overflowing and bodies are being disinterred from graves to make room for the newly deceased. Emergency measures are necessary to stop the spread of the virus and millions more deaths! The International Committee of the Fourth International demands the following urgent actions:

  • All non-essential production must immediately stop until the disease is brought under control. This includes all manufacturing not directly related to core social infrastructure, as well as all non-essential retail and in-person food service. Unlike the partial lockdowns implemented in March of 2020, the suspension of non-essential production must be total, and executives of corporations that violate public health guidelines must be imprisoned. All workers must receive 100 percent pay either for remote work or, when remote work is impossible, to fully compensate them for lost income over the entire time they are furloughed.
  • All self-employed tradesmen and tradeswomen, contractors and small business owners must receive full compensation for all lost earnings resulting from the halting of non-essential production.
  • All in-person education must be immediately suspended and replaced with remote instruction. Billions of dollars must be made available to ensure that every child and adolescent is provided with his or her own modern laptop and high-speed internet service, along with a safe, spacious and comfortable learning environment at home.
  • The public health system must be massively expanded and tens of thousands of public health coordinators hired. Eradicating COVID-19 means treating every infection and exposure as an emergency. Everyone infected with the disease, or exposed to it, must have immediate and timely access to public health staff, nurses and doctors who can monitor their symptoms and help them safely quarantine without infecting others.
  • Trillions of dollars must be allocated for the creation of a global vaccination program. The distribution of vaccines must be administered by scientists and public health experts with a mandate to protect the whole world. It must not be subject to the geopolitical interests of competing capitalists ruling elites.

AstraZeneca Trial Involving Minors Halted As EMA Officials Admit Link Between Jab And Deadly Blood Clots - Just days after Australia's deputy chief medical officer, Michael Kidd, acknowledged that there was likely a connection between rare blood clots and the COVID vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford, officials from the EMA, Europe's top pharmaceutical regulator, have finally acknowledged the link, even if the agency's official stance - that there's no evidence of a link, but no evidence to rule it out - remains unchanged. The EMA declared at the conclusion of a hasty "safety review" last month that the benefits of the AstraZeneca jab(which is expected to to be the workhorse of the global vaccination rollout as Covax, the WHO/Gates Foundation program to vaccination developing countries, expects to heavily rely on the jab) far outweighed any risks, while saying it couldn't definitively rule out the possibility that the blood clots and the vaccine might be connected. But researchers from Norway,Germany and elsewhere insisted they had found evidence of a connection. And after the UK acknowledged more than 2 dozen new cases of the rare clots - 9 of them fatal - it seems the dam has finally broken.New findings from the EMA show that there is indeed a link between the "very rare" blood clots in the brain and the AstraZeneca vaccine, but the exact possible causes are still unknown, according to a senior EMA official, who made the comments in an interview with the Italian newspaper Il Messagero. Here's a Reuters summary of that report."In my opinion, we can now say it, it is clear that there is an association (of the brain blood clots) with the vaccine. However, we still do not know what causes this reaction," Marco Cavaleri, chair of the vaccine evaluation team at the EMA, told Italian daily Il Messagero.Cavaleri provided no evidence to support his comment.[...]Cavaleri said the EMA would say in its review that there is a link but was not likely to give an indication this week regarding the age of individuals to whom the AstraZeneca shot should be given.In a separate interview, Armando Genazzani, a member of the EMA’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use, told another Italian newspaper, La Stampa, that a connection between the jab and the clots was "plausible."The EMA is officially investigating 44 cases of the brain blood clots, an ailment known as a cerebral venous thrombosis (or CVST). More than 9.2M people in the EU have received the vaccine in total.

COVID-19 cases surge in the Philippines - COVID-19 daily cases are surging in the Philippines as hospitals declare themselves overwhelmed. On April 2, the seven-day moving average daily case rate hit 9,021, more than twice the peak of 4,421 cases reached last year. Active cases are at a new record of 153,809 and the death toll is now 13,297. The numbers continue to rise. The Department of Health reported 11,028 new cases on Sunday. So far, Metro Manila, the national capital region (NCR) and four surrounding provinces have borne the brunt of the surge with 70 percent of active cases or 109,496. According to the Philippine health department, the COVID-19 allotted beds in 26 out of 150 hospitals in the NCR were already fully occupied. Twenty-four hospitals were at over 85 percent occupancy. Of the 804 intensive care beds for COVID-19 patients, over 78.61 percent or 631 were in use. In addition, 69 percent or 3,143 isolation beds and 61 percent or 2180 ward beds were also occupied. Around the world, COVID-19 cases are surging as capitalist governments herd students and workers back into unsafe schools and workplaces in a drive to restore the full production of profits even as the pandemic continues and vaccination programs are stalled by vaccine nationalism and outright hoarding by richer countries. In New York City, 76,471 more cases and 7,763 deaths were recorded in March alone as Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered 80,000 city workers back to offices. The fascistic Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has continued to oppose even the minimal social distancing measures implemented by state and municipal governments as the 7-day moving average daily case rate is now a horrendous 73,993 cases. Similarly, the government of President Rodrigo Duterte and the Philippine ruling elite have matched their international counterparts in cynicism, callousness and malign neglect in ensuring capitalist profits take precedence over the health and lives of the working masses.

South Korea reports surge in coronavirus cases, more restrictions expected (Reuters) - South Korea reported 700 new coronavirus cases, its highest daily figure since early January, and the Prime Minister reiterated warnings on Thursday that new social distancing rules would likely be needed.Wednesday’s tally compares with an average of 477 cases last week, according to data from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency and will fuel fears that the country may be facing a fourth wave of infections.Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told a government meeting a new wave of infections could disrupt South Korea’s vaccination programme which has been suffering delays as the international vaccine-sharing scheme COVAX struggles to provide promised doses on time. South Korea also said on Wednesday it will temporarily suspend providing AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine to people below 60 as it undergoes reviews in Europe.

Thai sniffer dogs can detect COVID-19 in sweat, project shows (Reuters) - Thai sniffer dogs trained to detect COVID-19 in human sweat proved nearly 95% accurate during training and could be used to identify coronavirus infections at busy transport hubs within seconds, the head of a pilot project said. \ Six Labrador Retrievers participated in a six-month project that included unleashing them to test an infected patient’s sweat on a spinning wheel of six canned vessels. “The dogs take only one to two seconds to detect the virus,” Professor Kaywalee Chatdarong, the leader of the project at the veterinary faculty of Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University, told Reuters. “Within a minute, they will manage to go through 60 samples.” The dogs can detect a volatile organic compound secreted in the sweat of COVID-19 sufferers, even in the absence of disease symptoms, the Thai researcher said. The dogs would not need to directly sniff people, but could screen samples of sweat, a task that should not be difficult in a tropical country such as Thailand, she added. Chile, Finland and India are other countries that have also launched efforts to get sniffer dogs to detect the virus, with a German veterinary clinic saying last month its sniffer dogs had achieved 94% detection accuracy in human saliva. “The next step is we will put them out in the field,” said Kaywalee. “In the future, when we send them to airports or ports, where there is an influx of commuters, they will be much faster and more precise in detecting the virus than temperature checks.” Thailand has been relatively successful in containing the virus, with a new wave of infections in the first two months of the year now levelling off and after recording 88 deaths. The southeast Asian nation has also started vaccinating front-line health workers and hopes to find a way to let visitors return in greater numbers after its tourism-dependent economy was battered by the pandemic.

Over 14 million COVID-19 cases in South Asia -- South Asia, home to a quarter of the world’s population, has seen a surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths in recent weeks. The total number cases now stand at more than 14 million, up by approximately eight percent since March 20—and over 195,000 deaths, a 3.5 percent increase in the same period. The deadly consequences of this highly infectious disease for the region’s nearly two billion inhabitants are the result of the criminal policies of South Asia’s ruling elites who have placed the profit interests of big business over human life. Having largely ignored the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, governments in South Asia—India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka—were forced to declare lockdowns in March last year. These ill-prepared lockdowns, however, did not include effective mass testing procedures, contact tracing and adequate financial resources for the underfunded public health care systems and social support for millions of workers who lost their jobs and income. Like their counterparts internationally, these governments began giving industries the go-ahead to begin reopening in late April. Lacking any real financial support, employees were compelled to return to their workplaces, despite unsafe conditions, paving the way for the current COVID-19 surge. India is now a regional epicentre of the pandemic, with about 88 percent of total cases and 85 percent of total deaths in South Asia. On Sunday, the daily number of infections in India hit 100,000, a new record, taking the country’s total since the coronavirus struck to over 12.5 million cases with more than 165,000 deaths. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has insisted, however, that his government will not impose another national lockdown. A recent statement from Modi’s office declared that the central government would maintain its “mission-mode approach in the states and districts reporting high cases so that the collective gains of COVID-19 management over the last 15 months are not squandered.” Modi’s claims of “collective gains” are a fraud—the massive increase of COVID-19 cases through the country is the result of his government’s policies. The statement declared that there would be a “special campaign for COVID-appropriate behavior” from April 6–14 with “emphasis on 100 percent mask usage, personal hygiene and sanitation at public places, workplaces and health facilities.” In other words, the responsibility for safe and healthy workplaces is being placed on ordinary working people, while big business maintains production and profits. The Modi government is attempting to cover up its failure to contain the pandemic by claiming that it is carrying out the “world’s largest vaccination program.” The reality is that only five percent of the Indian population has received a COVID-19 vaccination. Maharashtra remains the most seriously impacted Indian state. On Sunday, it recorded over 57,000 daily COVID-19 cases, a new state record, with Mumbai and Pune the two worst affected cities reporting 11,206 and 12,472 new cases respectively.

  India reports 131,968 new Covid-19 infections: Record increase for third day Times of India: For the third consecutive day, India witnessed the highest single-day spike of new Covid-19 cases after reporting over 1.31 lakh cases on Friday. According to the Union health ministry, the country recorded 1,31,968 new Covid-19 cases in the last 24 hours. With this fresh surge, the total number of infections has reached 1,30,60,542.  Currently, there are 9,79,608 active cases in the country. As many as 61,899 people were discharged or recovered on Thursday taking the total number of recoveries to 1,19,13,292.  The previous high was recorded on Thursday when the country reported 1,26,789 fresh Covid positive cases in a single day. This is the fourth day when India reported more than 1 lakh cases in a single day

Study links prenatal phthalate exposure to altered information processing in infants - Exposure to phthalates, a class of chemicals widely used in packaging and consumer products, is  known to interfere with normal hormone function and development in human and animal studies. Now researchers have found evidence linking pregnant women's exposure to phthalates to altered cognitive outcomes in their infants. Most of the findings involved slower information processing among infants with higher phthalate exposure levels, with males more likely to be affected depending on the chemical involved and the order of information presented to the infants. Reported in the journal Neurotoxicology, the study is part of the Illinois Kids Development Study, which tracks the effects of hormone-disrupting chemicals on children's physical and behavioral development from birth to middle childhood. Now in its seventh year, IKIDS has enrolled hundreds of participants and is tracking chemical exposures in pregnant women and developmental outcomes in their children. The researchers analyzed metabolites of three commonly occurring phthalates in urine samples regularly collected from the pregnant women in the study. The chemical exposure data were used in combination with assessments of the women's infants when the children were 7.5 months old. The researchers used a well-established method that gives insight into the reasoning of children too young to express themselves verbally: Infants typically look longer at unfamiliar or unexpected images or events.   "By analyzing the time spent looking at the faces, we could determine both the speed with which the infants processed new information and assess their ability to pay attention." The assessment linked pregnant women's exposure to most of the phthalates that were assessed with slower information processing in their infants, but the outcome depended on the specific chemical, the sex of the infant and which set of faces the infant viewed as familiar. Male infants, in particular, tended to process information more slowly if their mothers had been exposed to higher concentrations of phthalates known to interfere with androgenic hormones.

2.3 Million Americans Exposed to High Levels of Strontium in Drinking Water -=About 2.3 million Americans are exposed to high natural strontium levels in their drinking water, a metal that can harm bone health in children, according to a United States Geological Survey study.The study, published in Applied Geochemistry, found that almost every groundwater sample across 32 U.S. aquifers had detectable strontium levels, while 2.3 percent exceeded 4 milligrams per liter (mg/L), the maximum amount that people should consume routinely, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The public and private wells extending from these aquifers provide drinking water for 2.3 million people.While low amounts of natural strontium are safe and even beneficial for the human body, these high concentrations can stunt bone growth in children who lack adequate calcium intake. Strontium can replace calcium in bones, weakening them and limiting development, according to Sarah Yang, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services' groundwater toxicologist."We're more worried about infants and children because their bones are actively growing," Yang told EHN. "Generally infants and children can absorb more strontium in their intestines, and adults can't."High strontium in drinking water is linked to rickets in children, an extremely rare skeletal condition causing soft, sometimes deformed, bones. Strontium, a soft metal that originates from minerals like celestine, makes its way into drinking water naturally. Aquifers with high strontium concentrations are often surrounded by carbonate rock containing limestone and dolomite.In the USGS study, author MaryLynn Musgrove, a research physical scientist, found that 86 percent of people exposed to high strontium levels drink water supplied by carbonate rock aquifers. More than half of them are using Florida's underground reservoirs, where some freshwater has been blending with limestone and dolomite for 26,000 years.Texas' carbonate aquifers also stood out.The Edwards-Trinity aquifer system, a sandstone and carbonate formation spanning from Oklahoma to western Texas, had the most frequent occurrence of high strontium concentrations in its corresponding wells.Dolomite is abundant in the bedrock of eastern Wisconsin, where strontium levels are among the highest of U.S. drinking water supplies.While the USGS study mainly looked at areas exceeding 4 mg/L of strontium in samples, some communities living atop these dolomite layers drink water with more than 25 mg/L, the one-day health advisory limit for children.

Transportation noise pollution and cardio- and cerebrovascular disease - Epidemiological studies have found that transportation noise increases the risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality, with high-quality evidence for ischaemic heart disease. According to the WHO, ?1.6 million healthy life-years are lost annually from traffic-related noise in Western Europe. Traffic noise at night causes fragmentation and shortening of sleep, elevation of stress hormone levels, and increased oxidative stress in the vasculature and the brain. These factors can promote vascular dysfunction, inflammation and hypertension, thereby elevating the risk of cardiovascular disease. In this Review, the authors focus on the indirect, non-auditory cardiovascular health effects of transportation noise. They provide an updated overview of epidemiological research on the effects of transportation noise on cardiovascular risk factors and disease, discuss the mechanistic insights from the latest clinical and experimental studies, and propose new risk markers to address noise-induced cardiovascular effects in the general population. The authors also explain, in detail, the potential effects of noise on alterations of gene networks, epigenetic pathways, gut microbiota, circadian rhythm, signal transduction along the neuronal-cardiovascular axis, oxidative stress, inflammation and metabolism. Lastly, they describe current and future noise-mitigation strategies and evaluate the status of the existing evidence on noise as a cardiovascular risk factor. Thomas Münzel, MD, lead author of the review and director of Cardiology at University Medical Center Mainz, Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, Germany, said, "as the percentage of the population exposed to detrimental levels of transportation noise will rise again when the COVID pandemic is over, noise mitigation efforts and legislation to reduce noise are highly important for future public health."

Microsoft files patent for a crypto mining system using human brain activity - We all know how powerful the human brain is! It is true that we still are not able to use it to our full potentials. But what about if I tell you that Microsoft can help us do that? The company has filed a recent patent that will help them mine crypto using brain activity. A report from The Independent suggests that Microsoft plans on “monitoring people’s brain activity and other personal biometric data” to generate cryptocurrencies. This crypto mining system using the human brain can unlock a boat load of possibilities in the near future.The patent filed by the company said that it will use sensors that will track the specific activity of the users. This activity could include tasks like viewing ads and then convert them into data that can be used to solve complex equations which is what happens in general proof of work systems. There can also be other tasks that can be specified by the company which can be converted to usable mining data. Altogether they plan to use the human body and mind to produce one of the most valuable assets in human history.Microsoft thinks that instead of using powerful computers that just use a lot of energy, it is better to use the human brain and mind for such activities. Since the brain can do a lot of tasks, convertible to useful data, it can easily act as a computational problem solver. And it will not just focus on mental activity. Microsoft also plans to use physical activity to do mining (Sounds more like gold mining). These activities wouldn’t be so difficult to do. It could be normal running, jogging, or intense exercise. When such activities are performed the signals sent out by the brain can be used for mining. And finally, Microsft could set specific tasks for interested users that when completed could use their brain activity to mine cryptos. All in all, it is a great idea but we have to wait and see if it actually materializes into something. Because if it does we could be making money doing our daily chores and the energy efficiency problem with cryptos would be gone.

New Neuralink Video Purportedly Shows Monkey Playing Video Games Using Its Mind -- The man who can't seem to keep his cars (or his recent spaceships) from spontaneously combusting now claims that his mind-machine interface company, Neuralink, can allow a monkey to play video games using only its mind.  Neuralink released footage this week that purports to show a monkey named Pager, who is nine years old, playing video games in exchange for a banana smoothie delivered through a straw. Pager was hooked up to a Neuralink system six weeks ago, according to RT.The video shows links recording activity from more than 2,000 electrodes implanted in the monkey's motor cortex. The activity is then wirelessly fed to a machine-learning algorithm, which "sensed modulations in the monkey’s neurons and allowed the system to predict intended hand movements via a mathematical model of neural activity and the corresponding joystick movements."Researchers calibrated the system, the report says, by monitoring Pager's brain waves as it manipulated a joystick. Then, they disconnected the controller without telling the monkey, who wound up playing pong using only its brain, sans the joystick.And what would an inch of progress be without Elon Musk taking a mile? Musk quickly took to Twitter to proclaim that Neuralink's first product would "enable someone with paralysis to use a smartphone with their mind faster than someone using thumbs". "Later versions will be able to shunt signals from Neuralinks in brain to Neuralinks in body motor/sensory neuron clusters, thus enabling, for example, paraplegics to walk again," Musk wrote.

Study Links Pesticide Exposure to Childhood Central Nervous System Tumors -- The study, published in Environmental Research last week, found that children were more likely to develop central nervous system (CNS) tumors if their mothers had lived within 2.5 miles of land where pesticides were being sprayed when they were born."This study is the first, to our knowledge, to estimate effects for a large number of specific pesticides in relation to CNS tumor subtypes," Julia Heck, a study coauthor and the associate dean for research at the University of North Texas College of Health and Public Service said, as NBC Los Angeles reported.The research looked at the California Cancer Registry to identify cases of certain cancers in children under six years old, the study explained. They focused on mothers who lived in rural areas and gave birth between 1998 and 2011 to identify 667 cases of childhood central nervous system tumors and 123,158 controls. They then compared these cases to data from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation's (CDPR) Pesticide Use Reporting (PUR) system to identify whether chemicals classed as possible carcinogens by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had been sprayed within 2.5 miles of the mothers' homes at birth.One important implication of the study is that the mothers did not have to be directly working in agriculture in order for their children to face dangerous exposure."California's agricultural work force numbers more than 800,000, according to state estimates," Dr. Christina Lombardi, study co-author and epidemiologist with the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, told Beyond Pesticides. "In addition to the negative health effects of pesticides on workers there are large numbers of pregnant women and young children living adjacent to treated fields who may experience detrimental health effects as well."This risk is exacerbated by the fact that farmland and residential land is not always clearly delineated in the state."This transition from farmland to residential neighborhoods is abrupt across California, and, of course, constantly changing as farmland is developed,"

Salmonella Outbreak Is Linked to Wild Birds and Feeders, C.D.C. Says - A salmonella outbreak linked to contact with wild songbirds and bird feeders has sickened 19 people across eight states, eight of whom have been hospitalized, federal health authorities said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was investigating salmonella infections in California, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington State in people ranging in age from 2 months to 89 years old. Six cases were reported in Washington and five in Oregon. No deaths have been reported.   To prevent further cases, the C.D.C. recommends cleaning bird feeders and bird baths once a week or when they are dirty. People should avoid feeding wild birds with their bare hands, and should wash their hands with soap and water after touching a bird feeder or bath, or after handling a bird. In California, where three human cases have been reported, the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife warned of an outbreak in February, and reported that it had been “inundated with calls” from Californians who had discovered sick or dead finches at bird feeders.Andrea Jones, director of bird conservation for Audubon California, said the state had found that most of the birds affected by the outbreak were pine siskins, a finch species that spends the winter in California. Pine siskins congregated in California in large numbers this year, which allowed the outbreak to spread among the birds.“It can happen any year, but this has been a particularly bad year,” Ms. Jones said. “Pine siskins are not very good at social distancing.” Sick birds can often look weak or lethargic, or may appear to be struggling to breathe, Ms. Jones said. She added that most birds die within 24 hours of being infected by salmonella. Salmonella bacteria can spread from birds to pets and to humans. People may experience diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps for anywhere from six hours to six days after infection, according to the C.D.C. Children, adults 65 and older, and people with weakened immune systems sometimes suffer worse cases of salmonella, though most people recover in a week or less without treatment. Because many people recover quickly and are not tested for salmonella, the C.D.C. said it was likely that the true number of cases resulting from the outbreak was much higher than the number of reported cases. About 1.35 million cases of salmonella are reported every year in the United States. Of those, about 26,500 require hospitalization and 420 result in death, according to the C.D.C.

Algal Blooms Could Spew Lethal Toxins Into the Air, New Study Suggests -- Harmful algal blooms may be even more harmful than we thought.They have already been shown to kill the fish that swim in the water they infest or the animals that drink from it. Now, new research indicates they could even poison the air. In a study published in Lake and Reservoir Management this month, scientists for the first time detected an airborne instance of the algal toxin anatoxin-a (ATX), also known as "very fast death factor." "ATX is one of the more dangerous cyanotoxins produced by harmful algal blooms, which are becoming more predominant in lakes and ponds worldwide due to global warming and climate change," study lead author Dr. James Sutherland of the Nantucket Land Council said in a press release.ATX is a toxin made by cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae. Despite their name, these single-celled organisms are not plants but rather bacteria that can photosynthesize. The toxin can cause loss of coordination, muscular twitching and respiratory paralysis. It has been known to kill livestock, pets and other animals that drink contaminated water."Although no previous studies have documented the capture of airborne ATX molecules or cyanobacteria cells containing ATX, we hypothesized that ATX could become airborne under certain environmental conditions," the study authors wrote.To test this idea, the scientists devised a way to sample the air above a pond in Nantucket, Massachusetts dealing with a harmful algal bloom (HAB). They brought an air sampling device to the shore on windy days and collected airborne particles on filters. They also tested the water for the presence of the toxin. The scientists collected their samples between July and October of 2019. They detected ATX in the water at concentrations as high as 21 nanograms per milliliter, Science Alert reported. And, on one foggy and windy day in September, they detected it in the air also. They recorded an average of 0.87 nanograms per filter on their air sampling device, which would equal an airborne exposure of 0.16 nanograms per meter squared. The researchers are not sure how the toxin ended up in the air, but think the wind might have blown it in small droplets from the pond, and then the fog allowed it to persist for longer than usual. In any case, it is a problem worth investigating further.

 Human Fecal Bacteria Found in Protected Reef Ecosystem 100 Miles off Texas Coast - Ocean acidification and pollution are well-known threats to the world's coral reef ecosystems. But in a recent study, scientists have uncovered an entirely new threat: human fecal bacteria.Two extreme flooding events in Texas in 2016 and 2017 carried human waste more than 100 miles offshore to the Gulf of Mexico's "secret" coral garden, also known as the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, new research from Rice University has found.Usually, extreme flooding is expected to impact just nearshore ecosystems, such as salt marshes and oyster beds. That's why when scientists began to trace terrestrial runoff from extreme flooding to off-shore coral reefs they were "pretty shocked," marine biologist Adrienne Correa, co-author of a new study published inFrontiers in Marine Science, told Rice News."One thing we always thought the Flower Garden Banks were safe from was terrestrial runoff and nutrient pollution. It's a jolt to realize that in these extreme events, it's not just the salt marsh or the seagrass that we need to worry about. Offshore ecosystems can be affected too," Correa added.Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, one of the 14 marine protected areas managed by NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, is home to manta rays, sea turtles, hammerheads and whale sharks, as well as "boulder-sized" brain and star corals, according to NOAA. Scientists at Rice University were originally inspired to conduct their study after recreational divers reported "murky waters" and "dead and dying organisms" in the sanctuary, Rice News reported. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, scientists took sponge samples and found that samples from 2016 and 2017, after flooding events, contained E. coli and other human fecal bacteria. "This shows perhaps they aren't protected from severe events. And these events are increasing in frequency and intensity with climate change," lead author Amanda Shore said, according to ABC13. When exposed to terrestrial runoff, coral reef ecosystems can face decreased salinity and increased levels of contaminants and turbidity, the scientists wrote.Over the past few years, Houston has not been a stranger to extreme flooding events. During the 2016 Tax Day flood, for example, 17 inches of rain fell in some places in less than a day. Hurricane Harvey also dumped an estimated 13 trillion gallons of rain over southeast Texas in August of 2017, making it the most intense rainfall event in U.S. history, ABC13 reported.

COVID Litter is Polluting the Environment and Killing Wildlife, Reports Say - The coronavirus pandemic has brought with it the rise of a new kind of single-use plastic in the form of personal protective equipment (PPE), like disposable face masks and gloves.  As early as May of last year, environmentalists warned that these proliferating single-use items could cause a new wave of plastic pollution. Now, about a year after the World Health Organization first declared that COVID-19 had caused a global pandemic, two new studies are justifying those concerns. The first, published on March 22 in Animal Biology, focuses on COVID litter’s impact on wildlife. It presents the first overview of how PPE is directly impacting animals by trapping or entangling them, or by being mistaken for food.“We signal COVID-19 litter as a new threat to animal life as the materials designed to keep us safe are actually harming animals around us,” the study authors wrote. The second, published March 30 by the charity Ocean Conservancy, emphasizes the scope of PPE pollution in the environment. The report found that volunteers with the organization’s International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) had collected more than 100,000 PPE items from coasts and waterways during the last six months of 2020.“That number in itself is pretty staggering and we know that that’s really just kind of the tip of the iceberg,” ICC outreach manager Sarah Kollar told Treehugger.  The Ocean Conservancy study only begins to measure the amount of PPE that has entered the environment since the pandemic began. The organization was well prepared to make this initial observation because of its Clean Swell mobile app that allows volunteers to record what type of trash they encounter during the annual ICC, traditionally held on the third Saturday of September. These cleanups have led to yearly reportsdocumenting the most frequently collected items, as well as the total amount of trash. Ocean Conservancy added PPE to the app in late July 2020. It also sent out a survey to more than 200 ICC coordinators and volunteers asking about their experience with PPE. The results show that it is a real problem. Volunteers collected a total of 107,219 pieces of PPE in 70 of 115 participating countries. Of those surveyed, 94% reported seeing PPE at a cleanup, and 40% found five items or more. Further, 37% found the items already submerged in bodies of water. But, as shocking as the reported numbers are, Ocean Conservancy thinks the true numbers are probably higher. Volunteers had already been reporting PPE to Clean Swell under the tag “personal hygiene” before it was added in July, and the number of items entered under that category increased threefold from January to June 2020 when compared to the same time period over the previous three years.

Another whale found dead at Bay Area beach; 4th in over a week - ABC7 San Francisco  (KGO) -- Another dead whale has been found washed up in the Bay Area. Three others have been found in recent days. One was at Crissy Field, one at the Berkeley Marina and another along the San Mateo Coast.It isn't yet clear how the whales died. The first one was towed from Crissy Field to Angel Island for a necropsy.The video above is of a whale first spotted yesterday at Muir Beach.You can see experts from the Marine Mammal Center conducting a necropsy on that whale this afternoon.

Dead eagles found across the US had rat poison in their blood - In a sample of eagles from across the US, rat poison was found in about 80 per cent of the birds. This widespread exposure to toxic chemicals could impair their health or even lead to death. “This really suggests that despite the best efforts to use these compounds wisely and minimise the opportunity for the raptor species to be exposed, they’re still somehow getting exposed,” says Mark Ruder at the University of Georgia. Between 2014 and 2018, Ruder and his team determined the cause of death for 303 golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) and bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), which were sent to them from around the US. Some deaths couldn’t be explained, but the team determined that 4 per cent of the eagles died directly as a result of rat poison. They tested 133 of the birds for anticoagulant rodenticide, the most common rodenticide, which can also target opossums and beavers, and found that 82 per cent of the birds had it in their body. There was a high prevalence of what are known as second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides, which are highly toxic and can remain active for months after ingestion. These have been tightly regulated by the US Environmental Protection Agency since 2011 and are only available for commercial use. Eagles often scavenge, and rodents killed by the poison could become their food, although it still isn’t clear how exactly the eagles came into contact with it. It is also unclear whether the poison can affect reproduction or impair their health in other ways, says Ruder. “Such widespread exposure indicates that this issue is more than a localised phenomenon, and if there are widespread health impacts they may occur throughout the population,” says Garth Herring at the US Geological Survey, who wasn’t involved in the study.The findings are “alarming”, Ruder says, particularly because eagles and other raptors have recently rebounded from the brink of extinction caused by another toxic pesticide, DDT, which caused the birds to produce thin-shelled eggs. The threat of rodenticide may be exacerbated when combined with lead and bromide poisoning, which has also been documented in eagles.

New Montana Bills ‘Declare War on Wolves, Bears and Other Carnivores,’ Wildlife Advocates Say -- A flurry of bills has recently been introduced to Montana's state legislature that reduces restrictions on the killing of grizzly bears and wolves — two predators which have historically struggled to survive in the state.One such bill is SB 98, put forward by Republican Sen. Bruce Gillespie, which would expand the state law allowance for killing grizzly bears. Currently, Montanans can kill grizzly bears if they are caught in the act of killing their livestock, according to CBS News. But the new bill — which has already passed the state Senate — would mean grizzly bears could be killed if they were "believed to be 'threatening' a person or livestock." The bill also states that grizzly populations have "recovered" and should be taken off the federal endangered species list.Other bills include SB 314, which would allow all but 15 breeding pairs of wolves to be killed, and HB 224, which would legalize the use of neck snares to hunt wolves.With Montana's first Republican governor in 16 years, Greg Gianforte, and a Republican-controlled legislature, the bills represent "a political sentiment," according to Rep. Tom France, a Democrat and retired regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation, The New York Times reported, adding that Montana's State Legislature is now saying, "We don't live by federal laws and aren't going to pay attention to them."Proponents of bills like the ones aimed at limiting wolf numbers feel they have "no voice" when it comes to keeping the predators away from eliminating their game, like elk and deer, State Senator Bob Brown, a Republican who introduced one of the bills, said at a hearing, according to The New York Times."We can't sit by and allow our game — the thing that feeds so many families — to be taken off the table," he added.Activists and wildlife advocates have opposed the bills, calling them a series of "bad bills" that "declare war on wolves, bears and other carnivores," according to a statement by Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. "These bills — all put forward by just three lawmakers, Rep. Paul Fielder, Sen. Bob Brown, and Sen. Bruce Gillespie — also seek to usurp biologists, including the state's wildlife agency," Block wrote.

Records Shattered as Seasons Play Tug-of-War Across the US  -- As the first full week of April began across the United States, the weather was marked by a battle between winter in the Northwest as frigid air swept in behind a storm, and summer across the Plains as temperatures soared to record-setting levels.The dividing line between this tug-of-war match was drawn by a storm system that moved out across the central Plains on Tuesday.Ahead of the storm, temperatures across the center of the country surged Monday. Highs reached into the upper 70s F and 80s F from New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana to South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin -- and a few locations even topped 90 F for the first time since last summer or autumn.Sioux Falls, South Dakota, was one of the sites that reached 90 degrees Monday, setting a new record high temperature for the date. The previous daily record was 87 set back in 1991. It was also the earliest the city reached the 90-degree temperature benchmark in a calendar year, shattering the old record, which was set in 1954, by nine days.Sioux Falls hadn't experienced a temperature over 90 since late last summer when the high soared to 91 F on Sept. 6, 2020. And the summerlike day ended with a bang in Sioux Falls and surrounding areas. A severe storm pressed overhead of the Sioux Falls National Weather Service (NWS) office during the evening, spawning large hail.Farther south, El Paso, Texas, recorded one of the highest temperatures across the Plains Monday when the mercury skyrocketed to 92 degrees during the afternoon hours and set a new record high for the date. The old daily record high of 89 F was set in 1942 and tied in 2016. The last time El Paso reached the 90-degree mark was on Oct. 21, 2020.North Platte, Nebraska, and Burlington, Colorado, also hit 90 degrees Monday, each setting a new record high temperature for the day. The 90-degree reading in North Platte eclipsed the previous daily record high of 87 set in 1991. Meanwhile, Burlington surpassed the old daily record of 85 set way back in 1959.The recorded temperatures easily overshot normal high temperatures for the Plains in the beginning of April, which range from the lower 50s in the Dakotas to the middle 70s in western Texas.Even in the height of summer, the normal high temperatures in Sioux Falls only climbs to as high as 84 degrees. In contrast, normal high temperatures reach the lower 90s in El Paso by the middle of May.Dramatically plummeting temperatures in the wake of the storm will set the stage for accumulating snow in some areas of western Nebraska. A few locations that recorded temperatures in the 70s and 80s Monday could pick up between 1 and 4 inches of snow through Wednesday. Some locations where temperatures climbed into the upper 80s saw a mix of rain and snow Tuesday night, but rain fell in North Platte, according to AccuWeather forecasters.On the western side of the storm, temperature records were on the opposite end of the spectrum as a blast of Arctic air swept into the Northwest in the wake of the storm system.The temperature at the NWS office in Seattle dropped to 33 F on Monday, breaking the old daily record low for this location of 34 F set in 1997. Olympia, Washington, tied the daily record low of 26 degrees for the date, which was set in 1961.

California reports third-driest year on record --A snow survey in California revealed that the state only received about 50% of its average precipitation during the 2021 water year, tying it for its third-driest on record.The snow survey, which is conducted annually by the Department of Water Resources (DWR), records precipitation for the water year, which extends from October to March. The survey recorded a snow depth of 49.5 inches and a snow water equivalent, which measures the amount of water contained within the snowpack, of 21 inches, on April 1.April 1 is typically when snowpack is at its deepest in the state and has the highest snow water equivalent."With below-average precipitation statewide, California's reservoirs continue to show the impacts due to dry conditions," Sean De Guzman, chief of snow surveys for the California Department of Water Resources, said.This year's water season tied for third-driest on record with the 2014 season. The second-driest year on record was 1924, and the driest on record was 1977, when an area of high pressure parked off the West Coast and deflected storms away from California and instead pushed them into the Pacific Northwest. Precipitation during the 1977 water year was less than 35% of average,according to a report from the comptroller general of the United States.Lake Shasta, the largest surface-level reservoir in the state of. California, recorded just 65% of what is considered average in terms of precipitation this year. (California Department of Water Resources)Lake Shasta, California's largest surface-level reservoir, recorded 65% of what is considered average.Lake Oroville, the largest reservoir within the State Water Project, a 700-mile-long water storage and delivery system, is at 53% of average. The State Water Project supplies water for over 27 million people and irrigates about 750,000 acres of farmland.Statewide, De Guzman said the largest reservoirs are holding around half of their total capacity. When current snowpack melts, reservoirs in the state are still only expected to be filled up to 58% of average capacity.AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Bob Smerbeck said the La Niña weather pattern this year steered storms north of California, leaving the state with less precipitation.According to Smerbeck, a dry water season in California can allow for fire season to begin earlier in the year as temperatures rise with less water available to evaporate, resulting in drier vegetation.

Wisconsin governor declares state of emergency over wildfires  -Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) has declared a state of emergency due to wildfires in the state.The executive order signed Monday comes as more than 320 wildfires have burned 1,400 acres of land throughout The Badger State so far in 2021.Evers's order allows the state's National Guard to help the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources respond to fires by deploying Blackhawk helicopters to help suppress fires from the air."With nearly the entire state experiencing high or very high fire risk, protecting Wisconsinites from the destructive dangers of wildfires is a top priority,” Evers said in a statement.“The ability of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to have all available resources ready to be quickly dispatched is a critical element in keeping fires small and achieving swift containment.”Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources reported a total of 782 wildfires that burned 1,630 acres of land in 2020. Fire officials expect this wildfire season to be much longer due to snow melting earlier around the state.

Florida declares state of emergency as reservoir holding millions of gallons of radioactive wastewater could 'collapse' at any time - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency on Saturday after a leak was detected at an old phosphate plant pond in the Tampa Bay area that could potentially lead to a dangerous acidic flood. Residents living close to the old Piney Point phosphate mine, located north of Bradenton, near Tampa, have been asked to evacuate their homes. Those living within a half-a-mile radius of the reservoir received a text message alert on Saturday notifying them the collapse was "imminent," the Guardian reported.  State officials said they first discovered the leak on Friday. It was located in one wall of the 77-acre pond that holds about 600 million gallons of water, containing phosphorus, nitrogen, and small amounts of radium and uranium. The stacks can also release large concentrations of radon gas. "A portion of the containment wall at the leak site shifted laterally, signifying that structural collapse could occur at any time," Manatee County Director of Public Safety Jake Saur warned, according to CBS News. "Due to a possible breach of mixed saltwater from the south reservoir at the Piney Point facility, I have declared a State of Emergency for Manatee County to ensure resources are allocated for necessary response & recovery," DeSantis tweeted on Saturday. Officials say they are most concerned about the flooding the rupture could cause, adding that the water that would be discharged is only "slightly acidic," according to a statement issued by Manatee County on Twitter.  "The water meets water quality standards for marine waters with the exception of pH, total phosphorus, total nitrogen, and total ammonia nitrogen," the statement said. "It is slightly acidic, but not at a level that is expected to be a concern, nor is it expected to be toxic."   Workers have been desperately trying to figure out ways to stop the environmental catastrophe from happening.  Authorities worked around the clock on Saturday to pump out as much water as possible to minimize the effect of the potential flood. But this process is time-consuming and can take up to 12 days.  The governor, however, has ordered more pumps and cranes to be transported to the area. Some workers tried to plug the hole with rocks and other materials on Friday afternoon but were unsuccessful.  George Kruse, a Manatee County commissioner, said he traveled to the plant on Saturday to assess the situation but had to leave the area quickly after realizing it was a safety hazard. "We determined that it was no longer safe to be anywhere near Piney Point, so we all kind of raced off the stacks as fast as we could," Kruse said, according to the Guardian.

Florida faces 'imminent' pollution catastrophe from phosphate mine pond - Work crews were pumping millions of gallons of contaminated wastewater into an ecologically sensitive Florida bay on Sunday, as they tried to prevent the “imminent” collapse of a storage reservoir at an old phosphate mine.  Officials in Manatee county extended an evacuation zone overnight and warned that up to 340m gallons could engulf the area in “a 20ft wall of water” if they could not repair the breach at the Piney Point reservoir in the Tampa Bay area, north of Bradenton. Aerial images aired on local television showed water pouring from leaks in the walls of the retention pond. Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor, declared a state of emergency after officials warned of the “imminent collapse” of the pond.He toured the scene by helicopter and said at a press conference engineers were still attempting to plug breaches in the reservoir wall with rocks and other materials, and that other mitigation efforts included the controlled release of 35m gallons daily at Port Manatee. He said the state’s department of environmental protection (DEP) had brought in 20 new pumps. “What we’re looking at now is trying to prevent and respond to, if need be, a real catastrophic flood situation,” DeSantis said. “The water quality issues that are flowing from this for us is less than the risk of everyone’s health and safety, particularly folks who may live in the area.” The governor also attempted to downplay reports that the water contained traces of radioactive materials. “The water was tested prior to discharge [and] the primary concern is nutrients,” he said. “The water meets water quality standards, standards for marine waters, with the exception primarily of the phosphorus and the nitrogen.” Scott Hopes, the acting county administrator, warned that despite a low population density, the nearby area could be overwhelmed by a sudden collapse of the 77-acre pond, even though discharges had lessened the quantity of remaining water. “What if we should have a full breach? We’re down to about 340m gallons that could breach in totality in a period of minutes, and the models for less than an hour are as high as a 20ft wall of water. “So if you’re in an evacuation area and you have not heeded that you need to think twice and follow the orders.” Advertisement Officials widened the evacuation zone late on Saturday from a dozen or so properties to more than 300 houses. The Tampa Bay Times interviewed some residents who were refusing to leave. A local jail a mile away from the leaky pond was not being evacuated, but officials were moving people and staff to the second story and putting sandbags on the ground floor. Hopes said models showed the area could be covered with between 1ft to 5ft of water, and the second floor is 10ft above ground. County officials said well water remained unaffected and there was no threat to Lake Manatee, the area’s primary source of drinking water.

'20-Foot Wall of Water' Could Be Unleashed if Florida Phosphate Pond Collapses, Official Warns - A 20-foot-tall wall of water could be unleashed in minutes if the wall surrounding a phosphate wastewater pond breaches, a Manatee County government official said Sunday. About 306 million gallons of polluted saltwater remain in the reservoir that began leaking last week, Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes said. At a news conference on Sunday morning, Hope said up to a 20-foot wall of water could form in less than an hour, based on models, if the pond breached. The pond was once used to store waste from a plant at the site that turned phosphate into fertilizer. Officials in Manatee County on Florida's Gulf Coast ordered residents of more than 300 homes near the site to evacuate immediately Saturday. "What we're looking at now is trying to prevent — and respond to if need be — a catastrophic flood issue," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at the Sunday morning briefing. DeSantis said the water is not radioactive, even though the gypsum stack that the pond sits on is mildly radioactive. The governor said the water is mostly saltwater from a dredging project years ago and the "process water" from the old fertilizer plant. That process water is high in phosphorus and nitrogen, nutrients that can cause algae blooms in rivers and bays. Much of the water has already been drained into Port Manatee, which sits at the mouth of Tampa Bay. DeSantis said pumps are sending 33 million gallons a day from the pond to the bay. He also said the Florida National Guard is flying more pumps to the top of the gypsum berm around the pond to pump more water. DeSantis and Noah Valenstein, the secretary of Florida's Department of Environmental Protection, said flooding is the biggest danger to the public now. Valenstein the primary focus is on directing a controlled discharge to an area where it will have the least impact. At a county news conference at 2 p.m. Sunday, Vanessa Baugh, chairman of the Manatee County Commission, said, "Steady draw down of the process water has continued at Piney Point, and we have thankfully avoided uncontrolled breach that would have endangered people and property in the evacuation zone around the stacks."

Drone discovers 2nd breach concern in Florida phosphate reservoir - A drone discovered a possible second breach in a large Florida wastewater reservoir as more pumps were headed to the site to prevent a catastrophic flood, officials said Monday. U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Republican, toured the area by helicopter Monday and said federal resources were committed to assisting the effort to control the 77-acre (33-hectare) Piney Point reservoir in Manatee County, just south of the Tampa Bay area. Among those are the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, Buchanan said at a news conference. "I think we are making some progress," Buchanan said. "This is something that has been going on too long. Now, I think everybody is focused on this." Fears of a complete breach at an old phosphate plant led authorities to evacuate more than 300 homes, close portions of a major highway and move several hundred jail inmates nearby to a second floor of the facility.  Scott Hopes, the Manatee County administrator, said the additional pumps should increase the capacity for a controlled release of the water from about 35 million gallons (about 132 million liters) a day to between 75 million and 100 million gallons a day. "This has become a very focused local, state and national issue," Hopes said. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection says the water in the pond is primarily saltwater mixed with wastewater and stormwater. It has elevated levels of phosphorous and nitrogen and is acidic, but not expected to be toxic, the agency says. The ponds sit in stacks of phosphogypsum, a solid radioactive byproduct from manufacturing fertilizer. State authorities say the water in the breached pond is not radioactive. Still, the EPA says too much nitrogen in the wastewater causes algae to grow faster, leading to fish kills. Some such blooms can also harm humans who come into contact with polluted waters, or eat tainted fish. The Piney Point reservoir, and others like it storing the phosphogypsum byproduct, have been left unaddressed for far too long, environmental groups say. "This environmental disaster is made worse by the fact it was entirely foreseeable and preventable," said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "With 24 more phosphogypsum stacks storing more than 1 billion tons of this dangerous, radioactive waste in Florida, the EPA needs to step in right now."

Florida phosphate reservoir on the verge of collapse: An exposure of industrial and government negligence - On Sunday, the state of Florida began pumping millions of gallons of radioactive contaminated wastewater into Bishop Harbor, an ecologically sensitive inlet connecting to Tampa Bay. This was done to prevent the “imminent” collapse of the Piney Point retention pond, a phosphate reservoir that began leaking in late March. This breach is only the latest incident in a decades-long history of environmental disasters involving the property. After a significant leak was detected Friday, April 2, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency, and Manatee County officials established an evacuation zone where it is possible that 340 million gallons could engulf the area in a “20 ft wall of water” in a matter of minutes if the breach cannot be repaired. Engineers have been working since March to plug breaches in the reservoir with rocks and other materials and are performing a controlled daily release of 35 million gallons of water at Port Manatee. The evacuation zone includes more than 300 houses, several businesses, and a local jail with more than 1,000 inmates. As of Sunday evening, only 345 inmates were reportedly being evacuated. This is being done to “free up bed space” for the remaining inmates on the upper level of the jail, which is only 10 feet above ground.During his press conference, DeSantis tried to downplay the presence of radioactive materials in the water being pumped into the bay. “The water meets water quality standards, standards for marine waters, with the exception primarily of the phosphorous and the nitrogen.” The wastewater stored in the holding pools in fact contains not only these two chemicals but also ammonia and small amounts of radium and uranium. In a tweet announcing the state of emergency, DeSantis described the toxic water as “mixed saltwater.” “What we’re looking at now is trying to prevent and respond to, if need be, a real catastrophic flood situation,” DeSantis stated. “The water quality issues that are flowing from this for us is less than the risk of everyone’s health and safety, particularly folks who may live in the area.” DeSantis noted that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) brought in 20 new pumps to ease pressure on the reservoir.

Crews Drain Florida Wastewater Pond As Leak Threatens To Unleash 'Catastrophic Flood' - Emergency crews in Manatee County, Fla., are using pumps and vacuum trucks to drain a leaking wastewater reservoir in an effort to prevent a full-fledged breach that officials said could unleash a "20-foot wall of water." The leak at Piney Point — a long-abandoned phosphate plant in the Tampa Bay area — was first discovered last month, and workers are removing millions of gallons of water from the reservoir each day to reduce pressure on its liner. Concerns over a potential breach prompted Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency Saturday for Manatee County, where more than 300 homes and businesses have been ordered to evacuate. The leak at the former fertilizer manufacturing facility and threat of an uncontrolled breach have prompted a multi-agency response at the state and federal level. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deployed an on-scene coordinator on Sunday, for example, and an Army Corps of Engineers team arrived at the site Monday. Piney Point closed 20 years ago when its owners declared bankruptcy, Steve Newborn of member station WUSF told NPR. It is now owned by a company called HRK Holdings and still stores industrial byproducts including polluted water and stacks of phosphogypsum — a waste product that emits radioactive gas, according to the EPA. HRK reported on March 26 that process water was bypassing the wastewater management system at Piney Point, according to Protecting Florida Together, a state-run website focused on water quality issues. Officials identified a leak in a containment wall that put the structure at risk of collapsing. Water is being drawn by pumps from the top of the 79-acre pond to Tampa Bay, according to the county. Officials said on Sunday that the Florida National Guard was dropping off extra pumps to increase the volume of water being pumped out in addition to the 10 vacuum trucks and 20 pumps already deployed. There were about 480 million gallons in the impacted area of the reservoir on March 26, according to Protecting Florida Together. By Monday, Hopes said that number was "probably just shy of 300 million."  DeSantis said the water being discharged is not radioactive, describing it as saltwater from a dredging project "mixed with legacy process water and stormwater runoff." It meets water quality standards for marine waters, officials said, "with the exception of pH, total phosphorus, total nitrogen and total ammonia nitrogen." Matt Pasek, a geoscience professor at the University of South Florida, told NPR's Here and Now the water that is a waste product of phosphate is "mildly radioactive" but said "radioactive" has a wide range of values. "To put it in perspective, this one's more radioactive than bananas, but not that many bananas. It's about 20 bananas' worth of radioactivity,"

Water Pumped Into Tampa Bay Could Cause a Massive Algae Bloom, Affecting Manatees and Fish --Millions of gallons of water laced with fertilizer ingredients are being pumped into Florida's Tampa Bay from aleaking reservoir at an abandoned phosphate plant at Piney Point. As the water spreads into the bay, it carries phosphorus and nitrogen – nutrients that under the right conditions can fuel dangerous algae bloomsthat can suffocate sea grass beds and kill fish, dolphins and manatees.It's the kind of risk no one wants to see, but officials believed the other options were worse.About 300 homes sit downstream from the 480-million-gallon reservoir, which began leaking in late March 2021. State officials determined that pumping out the water was the only way to prevent the reservoir's walls from collapsing. They decided the safest location for all that water would be out through Port Manatee and into the bay.Florida's coast is dotted with fragile marine sanctuaries and sea grass beds that help nurture the state's thriving marine and tourism economy. Those near Port Manatee now face a risk of algal blooms over the next few weeks. Once algae blooms get started, little can be done to clean them up.The phosphate mining industry around Tampa is just one source of nutrients that can fuel dangerous algae blooms, which I study as a marine biologist. The sugarcane industry, cattle ranches, dairy farms and citrus groves all release nutrients that often flow into rivers and eventually into bays and the ocean. Sewage is another problem – Miami and Fort Lauderdale, for example, have old sewage treatment systems with frequent pipe breaks that leak sewage into canals and coastal waters. All can fuel harmful algal blooms that harm marine life and people. Overall, blooms are getting worse locally and globally. Just down the coast from Port Manatee, the next three counties to the south have had algae blooms in recent weeks, including red tide, which produces a neurotoxin that feels like pepper spray if you breathe it in. Karenia brevis, a dinoflagellate, is the organism in red tide and produces the toxin.This part of Florida's Gulf Coast is a hot spot for red tide, often fueled by agricultural runoff. A persistent red tide in 2017 and 2018 killed at least 177 manatees and left a trail of dead fish along the coast and into Tampa Bay. If the coastal currents carry today's red tide father north and into Tampa Bay, the toxic algae could thrive on the nutrients from Piney Point.

 Toxic Waste Ponds Dangerously Vulnerable to Climate Change --The threat of a catastrophic failure unleashing a 20-foot wall of industrial wastewater over nearby homes and businesses in Piney Point, Florida, illustrates the danger of widespread reliance on industrial waste ponds across the U.S., The New York Times reports.  Many of these ponds, filled with toxic and sometimes radioactive, byproducts of climate-change causing activity like coal ash from power plants or manure from industrialized farms, are also at risk because of climate change. Open lagoons make up the extent of waste processing infrastructure for industrial hog farming operations and coal-fired power plants and both were overwhelmed by Hurricane Florence in 2018, when more than 100 hog lagoons were swamped throughout the Carolinas and coal ash poured out of containment ponds at Duke's Sutton Plant in Wilmington, N.C."They're just an irresponsible way to store very dangerous waste," Daniel Estrin, general counsel at the Waterkeeper Alliance, a clean water nonprofit group, told the Times. "And with climate change, we're going to see more frequent and stronger storms that are going to impact these sites."

 More than 40 people killed, hundreds missing after severe floods and landslides hit Indonesia --At least 44 people have been killed and hundreds are reportedly missing after heavy rains struck Indonesian East Nusa Tenggara province, triggering floods and landslides early Sunday morning, April 4, 2021. The worst-hit area is East Flores regency where heavy rains are expected to continue into the next week.According to the National Disaster Management Agency, the disaster buried dozens of homes, swept away several other houses, and destroyed roads and bridges.In Lamenele village on Flores Islands, a mudslide struck nearly 50 homes, claiming the lives of at least 20 people. Three more bodies were found in Oyang Bayang village.Two people are missing and four were injured in Waiburak village where overnight rains caused rivers to burst their banks, flooding large areas of the East Flores district.According to the head of Nele Lamadike village, hundreds of people are missing after a massive landslide hit part of the village in the early hours of Sunday.Officials launched large-scale rescue efforts, hampered by power cuts, blocked roads, and remoteness of the area.Severe flooding was also reported in the town of Bima, West Nusa Tenggara after dams in four sub-districts overflowed, submerging nearly 10 000 homes. At least 2 people were killed and nearly 10 000 forced to evacuate.

Dozens killed as flooding, mudslides ravage Indonesia and Timor-Leste  --A developing tropical system brought rounds of torrential rainfall to the islands of eastern Indonesia and Timor-Leste throughout the weekend, leading to widespread flooding and deadly mudslides. AccuWeather forecasters warn that more rain is expected in the coming days.  As of Sunday evening, local time, at least nine people have been killed by floodwaters in Dili, the capital city of Timor-Leste, an official from Civil Protection told local media.According to Reuters, the death toll due to flash flooding, landslides and a falling tree climbed to 113 by Monday evening, local time. Officials called the city a "calamity zone" as days of heavy tropical rainfall caused Dili to fill with floodwaters, especially during high tide.Extensive damage to homes and businesses has been reported, including to infrastructure needed to fight the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.Staff at the warehouse where Timor-Leste's medical supplies are stored have been working to save what they can after the building flooded over the weekend. This is the same building that was going to store COVID-19 vaccines that were scheduled to arrive on Monday.Residents and officials have reported water levels as high as 6.5 feet (2 m) in some neighborhoods with houses along the Comoro River being swept away,reported local media.The East and West Nusa Tenggara provinces of eastern Indonesia were also hit hard by torrential rainfall over the weekend. At least 70 people have been killed and thousands more displaced due to flash flooding and mudslides, Reuters reported. Hundreds of people were involved in search-and-rescue efforts across the province, said Raditya Jati, a spokesperson for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency. Six villages were impacted by flooding and landslides, and recovery efforts were hindered by power outages, debris, thick mud covering roadways and rough seas, Jati added. Nearly 10,000 people were forced to evacuate due to flooding in Bima, a town located in West Nusa Tenggara, the Associated Press reported. The death toll from flooding and mudslides is expected to increase in the coming days as search-and-rescue missions continue in some areas and tropical rainfall continues in others.

Floods and landslides leave at least 3 dead, hundreds affected in Colombia (videos) Heavy rain has been impacting several departments in Colombia over the past days, causing floods and landslides that left at least three fatalities and hundreds of residents affected, the Civil Defense reported.The three victims lost their lives after heavy downpours triggered a landslide that in Florencia, Caqueta Department, on April 5.Floodwaters swept through parts of the Cundinamarca Department, while more than 70 people were affected as the severe weather damaged their homes in El Rosal municipality.On April 3, severe flooding in Quipama, Boyaca Department, damaged 65 houses and destroyed two others, affecting a total of 325 people. Five residents sustained injuries.In Risaralda Department, flash flooding from April 2 impacted the municipalities of Pereira and Dosquebradas, damaging more than 40 homes.Several other landslides were also reported in parts of Bogota. Between April 1 and 5, two separate landslides in the city damaged four homes, affecting at least 35 people.

At least 3 dead, thousands of homes flooded as torrential rains hit Haiti (video) Torrential rains have been affecting Haiti since April 2, 2021, resulting in extensive damage and at least three fatalities. At least 149 homes have been damaged, with more than 1 270 properties still submerged in floodwaters.Persistent heavy rains have been affecting Haiti in the past days, causing flooding in four departments. At least three people have lost their lives, while three others remain missing as of April 6. Two of the fatalities and the three missing were reported in the town of Boise Lance in the northern port.More than 1 270 homes were still submerged in floodwaters in Terrier-Rouge, Caracol, and True-to-Nord, while heavy rains drench the streets of Cape Haitian. At least 149 homes have been damaged in Jean-Rabel commune in the Nord-Ouest department.The Civil Defense said they will provide shelter for 137 households in the northeast, while 85 people have been transferred to safer areas.Prime Minister Joseph Jude also has called for the urgent mobilization of the Ministries of Home Affairs, Social Affairs, and Public Works to assist the victims.

Western Australia under rare weather threat of three strong tropical systems -- The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) has warned residents living on the coast of Western Australia to brace for intense winds, rain, and possible flooding as Tropical Cyclone "Seroja" is expected to pass between Carnavon and Jurien Bay late Sunday or early Monday, April 11 or 12. In a rare weather event, two other potentially strong storms are looming west of WA, with the potential to hit the area over the coming days. A triple threat of storm systems is expected to bear down on Western Australia in the following days. Seroja, the first storm, is forecast to intensify again from Thursday to Saturday, April 8 to 10, into a Category 3 storm, with winds of up to 157 km/h (96 mph) and gusts peaking at 225 km/h (140 mph), before crossing the coast on Sunday. Seroja has already claimed lives of more than 150 people as it formed near Indonesia. The second system, dubbed 23U, which is situated south of Christmas Island, may have an effect on Seroja as it slowly moves south. BOM said it is expecting the system to intensify to cyclone level as it starts moving toward WA. "On Sunday it is expected to turn to the southeast towards the west coast and make landfall, most likely late Sunday or early Monday between Carnarvon and Jurien Bay," it stated. "There is likely to be destructive winds, very heavy rainfall, and higher than normal tides close to Seroja's path. The most intense rainfall, with the associated danger of flash flooding, will be close to Seroja's track, while the strongest winds will be just to the north of its track." The third low, called 24U, located near Cocos Islands, is also accelerating east and may form into a cyclone. As of the present, this system is considered to be the least threat to the land. 

Antarctic cold blast to bring snow and subzero temperatures to southeast Australia - An Antarctic blast of icy air is forecast to bring snow and subzero temperatures to southeast Australia this weekend, with hail possible in some regions. According to the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), the first cold front will arrive Friday, April 9, followed by a second one on Saturday, April 10. The weather in parts of southeast Australia, particularly New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania, will shift from warm to cold in the following days due to two polar cold fronts. "This is looking to be the last hurrah of the warm season and the summer," said Jonathan How, a BOM meteorologist. "The first cold front is a garden-variety cold front. The next one is the leading edge of this air mass moving north from the Southern Ocean. It’s a low-pressure system that has been circulating the Antarctic." "Sometimes we see these systems jump up towards Australia and that’s when we see these winter blasts. This will be the last time we see the high 20s and low 30s until next spring," he added. The conditions will move through to Sydney on Sunday, making for an "uncomfortably" chilly weekend. How continued, "Even though we’re not going to see any record broken, the main message is that it is going to be quite uncomfortably chilly. This sudden swing will catch people by surprise." The mercury is expected to drop to 0° C (32 °F) in Melbourne on Sunday and in Canberra on Monday. The first snowfalls of the season are expected across the eastern seaboard, with a dusting of up to 800 m (2 600 feet) in Tasmania, 1 000 m (3 280 feet) in Victoria, and 1 200 m (3 900 feet) across NSW and ACT. "The really cold weather will come by Monday or Tuesday, that’s because the cold front brings cooler air, and the wind needs to settle down before it gets really chilly," said Jiwon Park with the BOM.

  Yukon sets new daily snow record, nearly 300 percent of normal, Canada - Whitehorse City in Yukon, Canada, registered 70 cm (27.5 inches) of snow on the ground on April 4, 2021 -- the area's most snowfall on record for the day and almost 300 percent of normal. The snowpack usually peaks around 30 cm (11.8 inches), and by late April, the snow base would be near zero.Although Yukon's capital Whitehorse is no stranger to heavy snow, the past winter has been especially snowy there with 70 cm (27.5 inches) of snow still on the ground as of Arpil 4. This is the city's largest snow on record for April 4 and is considered a tremendous amount for the area, which has a population of 25 000.The snowpack usually peaks at 30 cm (11.8 inches) and by late April, the snow diminishes to near zero. The Weather Network described the recent snowpack as "quite peculiar"."The region was even greeted by a rare atmospheric river back in early December. It's typical to get a meandering Jet Stream in La Niña conditions, along with above-normal precipitation across parts," it explained."The atmosphere essentially behaved like an El Niño for January, limiting the amount of frigid air available in the region; when the active storm track kicked in, excess moisture moved into Yukon. It rarely was too cold to snow."As of April 6, the city has been recording below-freezing temperatures for 161 days.

Temps hit 38 below zero in Alaskan city, setting new April record --A historic cold blast settling into Alaska this week will send temperatures plummeting far below zero, which could topple century-old low-temperature records in one city and even a longstanding state record. The severe cold comes at a time when Alaska normally starts to thaw out from brutal winter weather. "April is typically the time of year when Alaska is steadily climbing out of the Arctic’s icy grip, with average high temperatures rising 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit from the beginning of the month to the end in places such as Utqiaġvik (formerly Barrow), Fairbanks and Anchorage," AccuWeather Meteorologist Renee Duff said. High temperatures in Anchorage, Alaska, usually start April in the upper 30s, before reaching the lower 50s by the end of the month. Fairbanks rivals this spring warmup average by rising from the mid-30s in early April and ending up near the mid-50s by the last day of the month. "But that has been far from the truth so far this month, with temperatures running close to 18 degrees below normal month-to-date in Fairbanks," Duff said. Anchorage set a daily record low of 9 degrees on Thursday. The previous record low for April 8 of 10 F was set back in 1986. The cold air is also keeping snow from melting, which led to a new record Thursday. A snow depth of 24 inches was measured Thursday, the latest on record the snow has been that deep around Anchorage. The previous record came from 2011-2012 at the end of Anchorage's snowiest winter on record when 134.6 inches of snow fell. This year only 69.7 inches has been measured, which is below normal for the city. A normal total for April 8 is 71.8 inches. It's been a topsy-turvy start to April in Fairbanks. The city began the month with a high of 11, and low temperatures that didn't reach above zero degrees. Around Easter, the city's temperatures nearly recovered, just a couple degrees below the average high, but this was short-lived as temperatures tanked again to fall below -20, despite average lows being around 15 degrees. "The next three days will bring historic-level cold for this time of year to parts of mainland Alaska. The state record low for April of -50F (-45.6C) might be broken," Rick Thoman, a climate specialist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks said on Twitter on Wednesday.

Switzerland sees unusually fatal avalanche season  -- Switzerland's winter season this year has been 50 percent deadlier than the average season, resulting in around 27 fatalities as of March 31.Around 296 people have been affected, which is a 67 percent increase, as the number of people caught in avalanches over the past 20 years is 177.215 of the avalanches this season were caused by people, compared to an average of 113 over the last 20 seasons.Over the same timespan, an average of 18 people died in avalanche accidents per ski season. This season, 11 of the fatalities were among ski tourers and 6 among free riders. The deadliest region was Verbier, among the 4-valleys region, as seven of the total avalanche fatalities occurred there.Among the fatalities was former Olympian Julie Pomagalski, a snowboarder from France who died on March 23, along with a guide.The French ski federation did not cite the location of the avalanche, but according to the Associated Press, it occurred on Gemsstock mountain.The WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research explained that a thin, fragile layer of snow, which fell high up in autumn, caused future snow to become unstable. The melting and freezing of old snow throughout the season increased the risk of thick layers of snow breaking apart, causing accidents.

'It's Irreversible': Goldendale Green Energy Project Highlights A History Of Native Dispossession | Spokane Public Radio -- Some 15,000 years ago, an ice dam broke in Montana. Water cascaded across the Northwest in some of the largest flooding ever to happen on Earth. And the Ka-milt-pah people climbed up to one of the highest points on the Columbia River. As the stories go, the area known as Put-a-lish, or the Goodnoe Hills, is where people survived the walls of water slamming downstream in the Missoula Floods. The height of those hills protected Harvey’s ancestors. It’s also a reason this area is being considered for a new energy storage project. It’s one that the Yakama Nation says would land smack dab on top of an incredibly sacred area.The Goldendale Energy Storage Project would be a solution to generate energywhen the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. When there’s too much energy on the grid, water would be pumped into an upper storage reservoir. Then, when more energy is needed, it could be spilled through turbines into a lower pool of water – currently the cleanup site of an old aluminum smelter.It would be the largest pumped storage project in the Northwest.But, to the Yakama Nation, the destruction of those sites would add another heartbreak to an ever-expanding list. Countless important cultural areas have faced destruction across the Northwest, largely because they’re not understood by non-tribal members.“That’s the thing that we protect. And I know it’s meaningless to others, but, to us, it means everything,” says Jerry Meninick, the Yakama Nation’s deputy director for culture. Meninick’s lineage traces back to the Rock Creek Band.

Company that wants to build hydropower station near Ashokan Reservoir seeks new site for water source — The company that wants to create an underground hydroelectric power station near the Ashokan Reservoir will look for a new location to build a supplemental reservoir that would power the operation, state Sen. Michelle Hinchey said Thursday.Hinchey, D-Saugerties, was among about 50 elected officials and environmental advocates who gathered Thursday morning at the Ashokan Center in Olivebridge to voice opposition to the 2,800-megawatt power station proposed by Premium Energy Holdings of Walnut, Calif.Hinchey said Premium's president, Victor Rojas, “has promised that, because of our opposition, the three current proposals [for off-site reservoirs] will be rescinded, and a new alternative will be presented" as part of the company's application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).But those who gathered Thursday would prefer the entire project be scrapped.“That’s what we’re demonstrating here today,” Hinchey said.Premium says in the 28-page application it submitted to FERC that it wants to create a 2,800-megawatt power station 200 to 300 feet below ground on one of three sites — two near state Route 28, and one on the north side of the Ashokan's west basin.Of the electricity to be generated, 800 watts would be sent into the grid via Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp.'s substation on Hurley Avenue in the town of Ulster during 12-hour periods when demand is high, while the remainder would be used to keep the power station itself functioning.The station would be powered by water from the Ashokan that first would be sent to the planned new reservoir. Premium originally was considering sites in West Shokan, Woodland Valley and the Greene County community of Lanesville to create the new reservoir.

 Central Maine towns do not support amendment to state’s plan for Kennebec River - The proposed amendment to the state’s Kennebec River Management Plan to restore a healthy river and boost fish population has drawn significant opposition from several central Maine towns.   Skowhegan, Norridgewock and Madison have all expressed their opposition to the amendment, citing the economic impacts that the region would face should the amendment be adopted.Previously, Waterville’s City Council voted to support the state’s plan, while Winslow andFairfield town councils voted in opposition.The amendment proposed by the Maine Department of Marine Resources seeks to expand the fish species targeted for restoration in the river to include all of Maine’s native diadromous fish, or species that spend a portion of their life in rivers and a portion of their life in ocean. The amendment also updates the descriptions of the physical, biological and ecological conditions in the watershed and revises goals, objectives and actions for restoration in the river and provides reasons for decommissioning and removing dams.The amendment to the plan includes the potential removal of four dams along the Kennebec River, which includes the Shawmut in Fairfield, Weston in Skowhegan, and the Hydro Kennebec and Lockwood dams in Waterville. All four are owned by Toronto-based Brookfield Renewable Partners.The dams account for more than 250 million kilowatt-hours of renewable energy annually.Last week, a Brookfield subsidiary announced a lawsuit had been filed, suing the Maine Department of Marine Resources and its commissioner, Patrick Keliher. The lawsuit calls the rulemaking process of the Kennebec River Management Diadromous Resources Amendment “unlawful” and seeks to have the amendment process stopped.Brookfield believes MDMR is acting outside its legal rights and in their filing, highlighted deficiencies within the plan, including not allowing the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry or other agencies to assist with the plan and not providing an estimate of the fiscal impact of the project.The filing claims that the Marine Resources agency is not consulting with its sister agencies regarding the provisions of the management plan; it is also not following the plan as it was conceived in 1993.

Sea Level Rise Is Killing Trees on the Atlantic Coast, Creating ‘Ghost Forests’ Visible From Space --Trekking out to my research sites near North Carolina's Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, I slog through knee-deep water on a section of trail that is completely submerged. Permanent flooding has become commonplace on this low-lying peninsula, nestled behind North Carolina's Outer Banks. The trees growing in the water are small and stunted. Many are dead.  Throughout coastal North Carolina, evidence of forest die-off is everywhere. Nearly every roadside ditch I pass while driving around the region is lined with dead or dying trees.As an ecologist studying wetland response to sea level rise, I know this flooding is evidence that climate change is altering landscapes along the Atlantic coast. It's emblematic of environmental changes that also threaten wildlife, ecosystems, and local farms and forestry businesses.Like all living organisms, trees die. But what is happening here is not normal. Large patches of trees are dying simultaneously, and saplings aren't growing to take their place. And it's not just a local issue: Seawater is raising salt levels in coastal woodlands along the entire Atlantic Coastal Plain, from Maine to Florida. Huge swaths of contiguous forest are dying. They're now known in the scientific community as "ghost forests." Rising seas are inundating North Carolina's coast, and saltwater is seeping into wetland soils. Salts move through groundwater during phases when freshwater is depleted, such as during droughts. Saltwater also moves through canals and ditches, penetrating inland with help from wind and high tides. Dead trees with pale trunks, devoid of leaves and limbs, are a telltale sign of high salt levels in the soil. A 2019 report called them "wooden tombstones."As the trees die, more salt-tolerant shrubs and grasses move in to take their place. In a newly published study that I coauthored with Emily Bernhardt and Justin Wright at Duke University and Xi Yang at the University of Virginia, we show that in North Carolina this shift has been dramatic.The state's coastal region has suffered a rapid and widespread loss of forest, with cascading impacts on wildlife, including the endangered red wolf and red-cockaded woodpecker. Wetland forests sequester and store large quantities of carbon, so forest die-offs also contribute to further climate change.

Major Companies Join Call for Deep-Sea Mining Moratorium --- For the first time, major companies are adding their voices to the call for a ban on deep-sea mining.Google, BMW, Volvo and Samsung SD all signed a WWF statement last Wednesday calling for a moratorium on the controversial practice until its environmental impacts are thoroughly understood, Reuters reported."We welcome this important step, and call on other companies who care about the ocean to join these leaders by signing on to the statement," WWF International Global Ocean leader John Tanzer said in a press release. "It is a clear message to those who are swayed by the false promise that deep seabed mining is a 'green' and attractive investment proposition. It is not so."Deep-sea mining would involve the extraction of mineral-rich, potato-sized nodules from the ocean floor, asBBC News explained. These nodules contain elements like cobalt that are necessary for building electric vehicle batteries. Proponents therefore argue that mining the seafloor is an important tool for fighting theclimate crisis while being less damaging than mining on land.But WWF counters that the practice could be extremely damaging for little-understood deep-sea ecosystems, harm fisheries and disrupt nutrient and carbon cycles. This argument has proved persuasive to some companies."It's the fear that everything we do down there could have irreversible consequences," senior BMW sustainability expert Claudia Becker told BBC News. "Those nodules grew over millions of years and if we take them out now, we don't understand how many species depend on them – what does this mean for the beginning of our food chain? There's way too little evidence, the research is just starting, it's too big a risk."In signing WWF's statement, BMW and the other companies are pledging not to source minerals from the seabed, not to permit them into their supply chains and not to fund any mining exploration. They are asking the moratorium be kept in place until three conditions are met:

  1. The risks are clearly understood.
  2. All alternative mineral sources have been used up.
  3. It is clear the mining can be done in a way that preserves marine ecosystems and biodiversity.

Despite WWF's concerns, mining companies are moving ahead with exploring the possibilities of deep-sea mining. DeepGreen, GSR and UK Seabed Resources, a UK Lockheed Martin subsidiary, all hold exploratory licenses, Reuters reported. Norway has said it could license companies to begin the practice as soon as 2023.

More than 67 killed after lahar from Mount Lewotolo hits two villages, Indonesia - (video) Torrential rains dumped by Tropical Storm "Seroja" produced deadly lahar on the slopes of Mount Lewotolo volcano early April 4, 2021. According to the AAP, the total number of casualties attributed to Seroja rose to 155 as of early Monday, April 6. 72 people are still missing.The death toll includes 67 people who died in a rain-triggered avalanche of debris from the Lewotolo volcano on Lembata island, said Raditya Djati, spokesman for the National Disaster Management Agency.Another 49 people were killed on nearby Adonara island and 12 on Alor island.Lahars produced on the slopes of Lewotolo hit two villages -- Lamawolo and Jontona, Head of Kominfo Lembata district confirmed.Based on the information provided by the Lewotolo monitoring post, volcanologists have warned villagers that they were prone to lahar flows and asked to evacuate.

New fissures open near the eruption site in Geldingadalir, Iceland (video) Two new volcanic fissures opened near the eruption site in Geldingadalir, Iceland on April 5, 2021. Helicopters from the Icelandic Coast Guard were sent to the new eruption site to make sure the area is evacuated. The fissures are in total 200 m (656 feet) long and are located approximately 700 m (2 300 feet) NE of the craters in Geldingadalir. The lava from the fissures is non-viscous and flows fast in a narrow lava river into Meradalir valley, east of the new fissures, where a new lava field is forming. Because of the lack of ash and tephra emission in the atmosphere, the aviation color code for Keflavik airport remains Orange as there is no imminent hazard for aviation.

Red alert issued for La Soufriere volcano, evacuation ordered, St. Vincent and the Grenadines -Scientists monitoring La Soufriere volcano in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have observed a significant increase in activity at the volcano on April 8, 2021, which has prompted The Government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to raise the volcanic alert level to Red and issue an evacuation order for communities in the Red volcanic hazard zone. The UWI-Seismic Research Centre (UWI-SRC) scientific team recorded six separate bands of volcanic tremor throughout the day. This new type of seismic event has not yet been observed since the beginning of the eruption in December 2020. The seismic signal recorded is usually associated with the movement of magma and fluids close to the surface. Ash venting was also observed during the most recent tremor episode. The effusive eruption is continuing and an explosive phase of the eruption may begin with very little warning, the center said. As a result of increased activity, an evacuation order has been issued for communities in the Red volcanic hazard zone. Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves made the announcement during the second of two press conferences held in Kingstown on April 8. View of the dome at 2:00 PM local time grabbed by @VincieRichie from the summit cam. We continue to monitor and advise @NEMOSVG #svg #lasoufrière #volcano #stilldangerous #uwi #uwiseimic — UWISeismic Research (@uwiseismic) April 8, 2021 — UWISeismic Research (@uwiseismic) April 8, 2021 "We cannot give any clear warning that nothing can happen within the next 24 - 48 hours and we would not be surprised if there are explosions at the volcano during that period," the UWI-SRC Geologist and Scientific Team Lead, Prof. Richard Robertson said. At Red alert level, the public is advised to urgently comply with directives issued by National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO). NEMO has advised that safe areas are those from North Union to Kingstown, on the Windward side of the island, Barouallie to Kingstown on the Leeward side and the Grenadine Islands. In a bulletin released at 03:30 UTC on April 9, UWI-SRC said elevated and continuous periods of gas venting from the summit of the volcano coincided with the bands of tremor, with a well-defined plume at times. Visual observations made from the Observatory at Belmont during the early evening indicate that the dome height increased significantly during the day. The glow from the dome was visible from Belmont. 

Powerful explosive eruption at La Soufriere volcano, ash to 12 km (40 000 feet) a.s.l., St. Vincent and the Grenadines - A powerful explosive eruption took place at La Soufriere volcano, St. Vincent and the Grenadines at 12:41 UTC (08:41 LT) on April 9, 2021, producing an ash column that rose up to 12 km (40 000 feet) above sea level. This is a culmination of the seismic activity that began on April 8. Ashfall was reported on the flanks of the volcano and surrounding communities, including Chateaubelair and Petite Bordel. Ash cloud to 3.3 km (11 100 feet) a.s.l. is moving WNW and to 12.2 km (40 000 feet) a.s.l. to ENE, the Washington VAAC said at 18:11 UTC. Video footage of eruption at #LaSoufriere #SVG today. Credit: MVO, Dr Thomas Christopher @soufriere_hills @mvoms Areas to be affected by pyroclastic flows and surges will be communities in the red and orange zones, UWI-SRC volcanologists said at a press conference held at 15:00 UTC today. Communities across mainland St. Vincent will experience varying degrees of ashfall. The Grenadines may also be affected. The Barbados Met Servies reported that light ashfall can be expected in approximately two hours - around 21:00 UTC. St. Lucia and Grenada may also experience ashfall in the coming hours. The ash plume may cause flight delays. Ash on the ground can cause discomfort in persons suffering from respiratory illnesses and will impact water resources. Another explosion took place at around 19:00 UTC, with ash column estimated at approximately 4 km (13 100 feet) a.s.l. This is the culmination of a significant increase in activity at the volcano detected on April 8, 2021, which has prompted The Government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to raise the volcanic alert level to Red and issue an evacuation order for communities in the Red volcanic hazard zone. The UWI-Seismic Research Centre (UWI-SRC) scientific team recorded six separate bands of volcanic tremor throughout the day. This new type of seismic event has not yet been observed since the beginning of the eruption in December 2020, UWI-SRC said. The seismic signal recorded is usually associated with the movement of magma and fluids close to the surface. Ash venting was also observed during the most recent tremor episode.

Vincentians waking up to extremely heavy ashfall and strong sulfur smell, St. Vincent and the Grenadines - (video) Vincentians are waking up to extremely heavy ashfall and strong sulfur smell which have now advanced to the capital after powerful explosive eruptions started at La Soufriere volcano on April 9, 2021. The last eruption of this volcano started on April 13, 1979 (VEI 3) and lasted for about 6 months. Extremely heavy ashfall and sulfur smell are spreading through the nation on April 10 and have already reached the capital Kingstown (population 16 500), National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) reported at 09:32 UTC. Ashfall will be a pervasive hazard throughout St. Vincent and is expected to reach neighboring islands such as Barbados, it added. Volcanic ash is not necessarily deadly but can lead to respiratory problems and may also impact vehicles and plane engines. NEMO reported that residents have been evacuated from the Red and Orange zones, adding that 76 shelters with more than 2 000 residents are fully operational.The first explosive eruption at Soufriere took place at 12:41 UTC on April 9, after more than 42 years of quiescence. Its last eruption started on April 13, 1979 and lasted to November of the same year -- Volcanic Explosivity Index 3. After the initial explosion, seismicity increased again at approximately 15:30 UTC with a swarm of earthquakes lasting until 18:40 UTC. Vigorous ash venting resumed at approximately 18:45 UTC, with lightning seen in the ash column due to its highly charged nature. Another explosion took place at 18:48 UTC. Continuous tremor has been recorded since 19:00 UTC, with the largest signals accompanying the most vigorous venting. Violent volcanic ash emissions due to multiple explosive eruptions are ongoing at multiple flight levels, with the highest at 15.8 km (52 000 feet) above sea level, the Washington VAAC reported at 23:46 UTC. At 05:43 UTC on April 10, the center reported volcanic ash is extending nearly 740 km (460 miles) ENE from the summit and about 650 km (400 miles) ESE from the summit. 

Volcano erupts in southern Caribbean, sparking evacuation 'frenzy' (Reuters) -La Soufriere volcano on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent erupted on Friday after decades of inactivity, sending dark plumes of ash and smoke billowing into the sky and forcing thousands from surrounding villages to evacuate. Dormant since 1979, the volcano started showing signs of activity in December, spewing steam and smoke and rumbling away. That picked up this week, prompting Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves to order an evacuation of the surrounding area late on Thursday. Early on Friday it finally erupted. Ash and smoke plunged the neighboring area into near total darkness, blotting out the bright morning sun, said a Reuters witness, who reported hearing the explosion from Rose Hall, a nearby village. Smaller explosions continued throughout the day, Erouscilla Joseph, director at the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre, told Reuters, adding that this kind of activity could go on for weeks if not months. “This is just the beginning,” she said.St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which has a population of just over 100,000, has not experienced volcanic activity since 1979, when an eruption created approximately $100 million in damages. An eruption by La Soufriere in 1902 killed more than 1,000 people. The name means “sulfur outlet” in French. The eruption column was estimated to reach 10 km (6.2 miles) high, the seismic research centre said. Ash fall could affect the Grenadines, Barbados, St. Lucia and Grenada. “The ash plume may cause flight delays due to diversions,” the centre said on Twitter. “On the ground, ash can cause discomfort in persons suffering with respiratory illnesses and will impact water resources.” Local media have in recent days also reported increased activity from Mount Pelee on the island of Martinique, which lies to the north of St. Vincent beyond St. Lucia. Some 4,500 residents near the volcano had evacuated already via ships and by road, Gonsalves said at a news conference on Friday. Heavy ash fall had halted the evacuation efforts somewhat due to poor visibility, according to St. Vincent’s National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO). “The place in general is in a frenzy,” said Lavern King, 28, a shelter volunteer. “People are still being evacuated from the red zone, it started yesterday evening and into last night.”

  Life in a Remote Alaskan Community on the Front Line of Climate Change  – The world’s high-latitude regions experience climate change at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the world. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Prince Williams Sound in South Central Alaska. The fjords of Prince Williams Sound echo like thunder as glaciers calve off into the sea at an ever increasing rate. The ice loss from this region measures in the tens of billions of metric tons each year. For the roughly 200 year-round residents of Whittier, this loss amounts to far more than just a change in scenery. Whittier is a small, understated community nestled between the icefields of the Chugach Mountains and the shores of Prince Williams Sound. At its surface, the town is not much more than a port, a small collection of tin-roofed restaurants and shops, and the 14 story concrete apartment building that houses nearly everyone in town. There are no chain stores or private homes. The only way in or out of town by land is through a single lane two-mile long tunnel open only periodically throughout the day. Despite this challenging geography, the small number of residents are proud to call this special place home. Despite the small year-round population, Whittier residents still often get together, and look after one another. This fidelity is on full display in the town’s Facebook group: “What’s What in Whittier”. Here community members help each other get supplies from Anchorage, report daily bear sightings in summer, share small town news, and, at least in pre-pandemic times, share items and baked goods, often for free.  Like many other communities, Whittier has been dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and the resultant loss in tourist revenue from it. But by May 2020 city officials had another thing to worry about: A team of geologists had discovered that the town is at risk from a tsunami, driven not by seismic activity, but by climate change. Some 28 miles from the town of Whittier lies a glacier-filled fjord in Prince Williams Sound known as Barry Arm. The steep walls of this fjord rise nearly vertically out of the water some 2,000 feet high. The fjord is home to three glaciers: Cascade, Cox, and Barry, all of which have experienced rapid ice loss in recent decades.  The largest and fastest receding glacier in this fjord is the Barry Glacier. It’s losing billions of tons of ice each year resulting in a thinner shorter glacier. This has left large sections of the fjord walls exposed and vulnerable. According to a statement released by the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys (DGGS) “As alpine permafrost thaws and glaciers thin and retreat, support of the valley walls is degraded and removed, allowing rockfalls and landslides to occur; landslides entering the water have the potential to create tsunami.” Most recently, the destabilization of the Taan Fjord near Icy Bay in 2015 created a tsunami when a landslide was triggered by the retreat from the Tyndall Glacier. The tsunami was estimated to have reached a maximum height of 240 meters or nearly 790 feet according to authors of a 2018 study. DGGS reports that the tsunami threat from Barry Arm has the potential to be even larger than the one generated in Taan Fjord. 

Despite pandemic shutdowns, carbon dioxide and methane surged in 2020 -  NOAA Research - Levels of the two most important anthropogenic greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, continued their unrelenting rise in 2020 despite the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic response, NOAA announced today.These graphs depict the mean global atmospheric burden of carbon dioxide as analyzed from measurements collected by NOAA's Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network. Credit: NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory.The global surface average for carbon dioxide (CO2), calculated from measurements collected at NOAA’s remote sampling locations, was 412.5 parts per million (ppm) in 2020, rising by 2.6 ppm during the year. The global rate of increase was the fifth-highest in NOAA’s 63-year record, following 1987, 1998, 2015 and 2016. The annual mean at NOAA's Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii was 414.4 ppm during 2020. Economic slowdown prevented a record increase in CO2The economic recession was estimated to have reduced carbon emissions by about 7 percent during 2020. Without the economic slowdown, the 2020 increase would have been the highest on record, according to Pieter Tans, senior scientist at NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory. Since 2000, the global CO2 average has grown by 43.5 ppm, an increase of 12 percent. The atmospheric burden of CO2 is now comparable to where it was during the Mid-Pliocene Warm Period around 3.6 million years ago, when concentrations of carbon dioxide ranged from about 380 to 450 parts per million. During that time sea level was about 78 feet higher than today, the average temperature was 7 degrees Fahrenheit higher than in pre-industrial times, and studies indicate large forests occupied areas of the Arctic that are now tundra.

Atmospheric CO2 Passes 420 PPM for First Time Ever --The concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide surged past 420 parts per million for the first time in recorded history this past weekend, according to a measurement taken at the Mauna Loa Observatory on the Big Island of Hawaii.When the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research station "began collecting CO2 measurements in the late 1950s, atmospheric CO2 concentration sat at around 315 PPM," the Washington Post reported. "On Saturday, the daily average was pegged at 421.21 PPM—the first time in human history that number has been so high." Exceeding 420 PPM of the heat-trapping gas "is a disconcerting milestone in the human-induced warming of the planet, around the halfway point on our path toward doubling preindustrial CO2 levels," the Post noted, adding:There is special significance in reaching and surpassing a concentration of 416 PPM. It meanswe've passed the midpoint between preindustrial CO2 levels, around 278 PPM, and a doubling of that figure, or 556 PPM. The record of 421 PPM reached Saturday is just a single point and occurred as CO2 levels are nearing their yearly peak. But the levels over the past two months, of more than 417 PPM, signal that the annual average concentration is likely to exceed 416 PPM.While the growing concentration of atmospheric CO2—which increases the global average temperature and the number and severity of extreme weather events—is a long-term trend that corresponds with the rise of fossil fuel-powered capitalism, it has accelerated particularly rapidly since the 1970s.  The doubling of atmospheric CO2 is expected to increase Earth's temperature by 2.6 to 4.1ºC above preindustrial averages, a level of planetary heating that would "rul[e] out more modest warming scenarios," as the Post noted.  "Even if greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were to plummet overnight, the planet would continue warming for years to come," the Post added. That's because, as Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at the Breakthrough Institute in California, told the newspaper: "The amount of warming that the world is experiencing is a result of all of our emissions since the industrial revolution—not just our emissions in the last year." As the Post reported, CO2 isn't the only GHG with "worrying trends." Emissions of methane and sulfur hexafluoride have spiked, too.Although methane doesn't remain in the atmosphere as long as CO2, it absorbs heat much more effectively, which means that it greatly exacerbates the climate crisis. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, methane is 84 times more potent than CO2 in the first two decades after its release.

What Keeps Climate Scientists Awake at Night? -- What really makes this reporter's stomach churn thinking about climate change? Thawing permafrost. A scenario where it all melts, releasing copious amounts of CO2 and methane (it holds twice as much carbon as the atmosphere holds right now), and there's no going back. But what's at the top of the list of concerns for those who study how climate change is unfolding – on ice sheets and urban street corners, in oceans and farm fields – the climate scientists themselves?  DW asked a dozen experts spanning climatology, entomology, oceanography and yes, permafrost research, what keeps them up at night when it comes to the climate. Climate scientist Ruth Mottram studies the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and sea level rise for the Danish Meteorological Institute, but it's not the science that worries her. "I'm less concerned that there are unknown processes going on that we don't understand, and there could potentially be some unforeseen catastrophe on the way," she said. "We know what a lot of the impacts are going to be. I think what keeps me awake at night in a metaphorical sense is really the interaction between the physical system and how human societies are going to handle it."Vladimir Romanovsky, a professor of geophysics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Permafrost Laboratory, said that while he thinks about how what happens in the Arctic will affect the rest of the world, his concerns are much more local."We should remember that there are still some people living in the Arctic," he said. Around 4 million people in fact who would have to deal with the real-life consequences of solid ground thawing beneath their feet and houses. "Changes in these local or regional kind of climates and environments, they impact these people and some of these impacts could be very severe."Perhaps not surprisingly, global heating is a key concern for many researchers, like Dim Coumou, who studies extreme weather at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.Of most concern to him are heat and humidity extremes in the tropics – especially highly populated parts like West Africa, Pakistan and India – which will make it unbearable to be outside. When cooling down by sweating is no longer possible, people can't work outside and therefore can't grow food. The likely result being mass migration.

Intelligence report ID's climate change as key security threat - Climate change will lead to a less secure, more crisis-prone world that will strain global institutions, according to a major national security assessment released Thursday. The “Global Trends Report,” produced every four years by the National Intelligence Council, spotlights climate change among the main structural forces shaping the next two decades. Global warming, along with disease outbreaks, financial crises and other forces, will test the “resilience and adaptability” of the international system. There are reasons to believe that many systems large and small may fail under the increased stress. “Climate change will increasingly exacerbate risks to human and national security and force states to make hard choices and tradeoffs,” the report states.“The burdens will be unevenly distributed, heightening competition, contributing to instability, straining military readiness, and encouraging political movements.” Notably, the report also states that the increasing impacts of climate change may lead to increased demand for geoengineering of the climate. Such schemes, just on the drawing board now, might involve artificially counteracting global warming by spraying tiny particles high into the atmosphere to reflect sunlight, for example.  While national security experts have referred to climate change as a threat-multiplier for years, it's noteworthy this report shows climate change playing such a prominent role in shaping the world order through 2040.This is not your typical grim climate report projecting disaster in the year 2100, i.e. the distant future. Instead, the climate change we will see through midcentury is already baked into the climate system, thanks to how the oceans absorb and redistribute heat.  Studies show that even if emissions are sharply reduced now we are still in for additional amounts of warming through mid-century, which will lead to more extreme weather events, sea level rise, and other effects.

Groups petition EPA to remove ethane and methane from list of compounds exempt from emissions limits --Hundreds of environmental groups on Tuesday submitted a petitioncalling on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take action to curtail ethane and methane emissions responsible for smog.In a statement Tuesday, the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups petitioning, noted that despite ethane and methane’s contributions to smog, they are exempt from emissions limits based on a 1977 understanding of their contributions.The agency’s official definition of “volatile organic compounds” exempts some compounds by classifying them as “negligibly reactive.”However, the agency has historically maintained the right to amend its listing decisions, the petition notes. The groups requested that the agency remove both compounds from the exclusion list. Other groups that signed on to the petition include the Alliance for Climate Education, the Center for Environmental Health, the Clean Air Council, Christians for the Mountains and the Climate Defense Project.The petition also notes methane and ethane’s roles in ozone formation, citing studies that indicate methane is response for about 20 parts per billion of global background tropospheric ozone.“Further, studies have identified that increasing global methane concentrations from anthropogenic emissions contribute to elevated tropospheric ozone levels,” the petition states.“The rapid expansion of the fracking and petrochemical industries has come at the tragic price of millions of asthma attacks and widespread damage to our national parks,” Robert Ukeiley, an environmental health attorney at the Center, said in a statement.“We’re asking the Biden administration to close the EPA loophole that has allowed unchecked methane and ethane pollution to enable this tragedy,” he added.

400 Groups Petition EPA to Control Methane, Ethane Pollution - Center for Biological Diversity — More than 400 groups, representing tens of millions of people, petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency today to control harmful methane and ethane emissions that are the largest industrial source of compounds causing ozone pollution, also known as smog.Some 125 million people in the United States live in areas with smog levels that are consistently above what the EPA considers to be allowable. And although the outsized contributions that methane and ethane emissions from oil and fracked-gas operations make to smog are well documented, the agency has failed to require the use of widely available, updated technology to prevent emissions of those and other air pollutants.“The rapid expansion of the fracking and petrochemical industries has come at the tragic price of millions of asthma attacks and widespread damage to our national parks,” said Robert Ukeiley, an environmental health attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re asking the Biden administration to close the EPA loophole that has allowed unchecked methane and ethane pollution to enable this tragedy.”Ozone pollution can cause human health problems like asthma attacks and even death. For every year that ozone pollution violates the national standards, up to 390,000 more asthma attacks will occur in children, according to the EPA. Smog also hurts forests and wildlife.A 2021 survey of western voters spanning the political spectrum found that 91% support requiring oil and methane gas companies to use updated equipment and technology to prevent leaks of methane gas and other pollution into the air. Methane and ethane are also released by the petrochemical industry, which is concentrated in a part of the Gulf Coast known as “Cancer Alley” and in the Appalachian region. “The regulatory sleight of hand that this petition is trying to end enabled the extreme fossil fuel extraction industry, which is just the latest chapter in a long history of the U.S. government failing to treat this land and its peoples with the respect and dignity they are so clearly deserving of,” said Mati Waiya, founder and executive director of the Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation. “There has been a lot of talk from the current leadership of the U.S. government, but the petition presents an opportunity for actual action representing one small step to live up to that rhetoric.”

Louisville’s Super-Polluting Chemical Plant Emits Not One, But Two Potent Greenhouse Gases -   —The Chemours Louisville Works emits a chemical feedstock and a separate gas byproduct that do more damage to the climate than 750,000 passenger vehicles, and far more than the Environmental Protection Agency’s main industrial greenhouse gas inventory indicates. Chemours’ most harmful climate super-pollutant is the byproduct, hydrofluorocarbon-23 (HFC-23), a potent greenhouse gas that produces 12,400 times more warming than carbon dioxide, the main chemical compound responsible for climate change.  But the plant also emits hundreds of tons of hydrochlorofluorocarbon-22 (HCFC-22), a chemical ingredient in everything from Teflon to lubricants used on the International Space Station. In addition to being a climate super-pollutant that is 1,760 times more effective at warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, HCFC-22 also destroys atmospheric ozone that helps protect the Earth from harmful ultraviolet rays.As such, its production was banned in the United States and other developed countries on Jan. 1, 2020 under an international agreement known as the Montreal Protocol. But, Chemours is exempt from that prohibition because the HCFC-22 produced in Louisville is used as a feedstock to make other products that do not damage the Earth’s protective ozone layer.   In an article last month, Inside Climate News reported that the Chemours plant, in the city’s Rubbertown industrial area, emits so much of the byproduct HFC-23 that venting this single greenhouse gas likely had a greater climate impact than the emissions of all registered vehicles in the city, according to the main industrial greenhouse gas inventory kept by the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program. But the report did not include information on the plant’s emissions of HCFC-22, which the EPA makes public in another database used for different purposes—generally, toxic releases to the air, land and water.  When data from both EPA repositories are combined, Chemours’ emissions of the two chemicals have a greater annual impact on the climate than the yearly greenhouse gas emissions of 750,000 U.S. passenger vehicles—about 17 percent more than previously reported. The new figure far exceeds the 519,000 cars and light-duty trucks registered in Louisville and accounts for approximately 14 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions from the city, based on Louisville’s most current greenhouse gas inventory.

Sweden’s Space Agency Cancels The Project Funded By Bill Gates to Dim the Sun -- Climate change is a reality that nobody can deny, and drastic times call for drastic measures. This is what seems to had been in Bill Gates’s mind, as the billionaire wanted to start funding a geoengineering experiment of Sweden’s space agency that implies blotting the Sun with aerosols as an anti-global warming measure. writes about the jaw-dropping news, and it made a lot of people angry. Therefore, the pressure from eco groups was strong enough to make Sweden’s space agency to call off the event.  SCoPEx is the name of the project in question, which stands for the Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment. Researchers from Harvard University came up with the idea, and they were aiming to release a cloud of calcium carbonate into the Earth’s atmosphere to study the effects on sunlight.  The Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) issued the following statement:The scientific community is divided regarding geoengineering, including any related technology tests such as the planned technical balloon test flight from Esrange this summer. We should also take into account this statement:SSC has had dialogues this spring with both leading experts on geoengineering and with other stakeholders, as well as with the SCoPEx Advisory Board. As a result of these dialogues and in agreement with Harvard, SSC has decided not to conduct the technical test flight planned for this summer.However, there’s no reason to worry, according to SCoPEx’s website. The experiment would pose no significant hazard for people nor the environment, as it had the goal of releasing only a tiny amount of particles in the atmosphere.Bill Gates has been the target of COVID conspiracy theories since 2015 when he spoke at the TED conference in Vancouver about a future pandemic that would spread extremely fast and kill millions of people. The billionaire’s involvement in the geoengineering experiment of Sweden’s space agency also adds to his bad reputation, although he may not have bad intentions at all.

Geoengineering the climate: The zombie idea that just won't die -- Just when you think the last boomlet for geoengineering the climate has expended itself and we might be rid of any serious consideration of it as a strategy for addressing climate change, it rises zombie-like from the dead and starts roaming the Earth again. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has recommended spending $100 to $200 million over the next five years to study the idea—its feasibility, possible unintended consequences, and an ethical framework for governing it.What is it that makes us think we can anticipate the consequences of geoengineering the climate with enough precision that we won't make things worse than they already are? I am reminded of an observation often attributed to Albert Einstein: "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them." We have treated the building and governing of industrial society as engineering problems. We believe that if we just use the proper equations for building a skyscraper or managing the economy, we'll be all right.If we treat climate change as simply an engineering problem, albeit on a large scale, we will be faced once again with the possibility of engineering failures on a planetary scale. Climate change is quintessentially a product of the way we think, the reductionist thinking we apply to practically everything we plan and execute in industrial society. We rarely, if ever, think about the consequences of our actions for the biosphere, the very envelope of life-sustaining processes that is our only home.We generally act without reference to systemic effects which can amplify small changes radically. The small changes in the amount of carbon in the atmosphere cannot alone account for changes in the Earth's temperature. Instead, those small changes trap heat which warms water creating more water vapor which, as it turns out, is the biggest driver of climate change. The excess vapor wouldn't be in the atmosphere, however, were it not for the small additions to the carbon in the atmosphere brought on primarily through human activity.Today, of course, we regard our carbon emissions as very large even though human-caused additions to the atmosphere are still counted in parts per million. We count those emissions as very large because their effects are very large.If we set out on the path of geoengineering, we may face a host of unanticipated consequences that could be ruinous for some (and not others)—or ruinous for us all. I understand that the inability of our civilization to make any meaningful progress on addressing climate change is truly a crisis. But I do not believe we will address that crisis successfully by deploying strategies that use the same kind of thinking that got us here in the first place.

Biden Administration proposes record budget for NOAA - President Biden’s administration has proposed a budget increase for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that would be the biggest in the agency’s history if approved by Congress. The proposed budget would provide $6.9 billion in funding for the agency, a $1.4 billion increase from the budget enacted for 2021 and nearly $2.3 billion above the amount proposed by Donald Trump’s administration, or roughly 50 percent more. The increase would infuse a massive amount of resources to support the agency, whose responsibilities include weather forecasting, climate research and services, ocean research, the health of the nation’s fisheries and protection of endangered marine species. “These additional funds would allow NOAA to expand its climate observation and forecasting work and provide better data and information to decision-makers, support coastal resilience programs that would help protect communities from the economic and environmental impacts of climate change, and invest in modern infrastructure to enable these critical efforts,” according to the Biden administration’s budget document, released Friday. The agency’s involvement in efforts to fight climate change served as a primary motivation for the fund hikes. “This increase includes $800 million to expand investments in climate research, support regional and local decision-making with climate data and tools, and improve community resilience to climate change,” the document says. “These investments would support an expanded and improved drought early-warning system, as well as competitive grants to build coastal resilience to help reduce the costly economic and environmental impacts of severe weather events on communities.” Weather and climate forecasting are also highlighted as a key area of investment, specifically supporting NOAA’s weather satellite programs. “Families, businesses, and state and local governments rely on NOAA’s weather satellites and forecasts every day,” the document says. “The discretionary request invests $2 billion, an approximately $500 million increase over the 2021 enacted level, in the next generation of satellites, incorporating a diverse array of new technologies, which would improve data for weather and climate forecasts and provide critical information to the public.”

Biden budget's $14 billion hike for climate includes big boosts for EPA, science  (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday proposed $14 billion in spending on initiatives to fight climate change in the 2022 budget, including large cash injections for environmental regulation and science research. ration’s ambitions to decarbonizing the economy by 2050 to stem global warming, reversing a policy direction set by former President Donald Trump to slash red tape that hindered fossil fuel production. Biden’s so-called “skinny”, or preliminary, budget proposal includes $11.1 billion for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a 21.3% boost over last year’s enacted level. It also includes $10.2 billion for the National Science Foundation, up 20% from the 2021 enacted level, with $500 million of that going to climate and clean energy research. An administration official told reporters that the infusion of funding would help restore the federal government’s ability to respond to climate change after the previous administration slashed funding for scientific and regulatory agencies. “Despite the growing threat of climate change, we’ve cut funding for climate science and technology,” the official said, adding the new funding would “help restore the capacity needed to carry out core climate functions, to secure environmental justice for communities that have been left behind and to help developing countries reduce emissions.” The budget includes major new climate change investments and financial support for communities hardest hit by pollution or by the rapid transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy. The proposal allocates the largest amount ever to invest marginalized and overburdened communities - $1.4 billion, including $936 million toward a new Accelerating Environmental and Economic Justice initiative at the EPA, as well as $100 million to develop a new community air quality monitoring and notification program. It also invests $550 million in a program to remediate abandoned oil and gas wells nationwide, tripling current funding, an effort that would create 250,000 jobs. The request would also increase the Energy Department’s budget by 10.2% to $46 billion. Among new programs it would fund, the DOE would invest $1.9 billion to launch a clean energy and workforce initiative that would help the Biden administration meet a goal of decarbonizing the electricity sector by 2035 through a clean electricity and energy efficiency standard.

 The wage gap that threatens Biden's climate plan - President Joe Biden's efforts to sell the country's workers on his climate agenda will face a major hurdle, data obtained by POLITICO show — a big wage gap between the new green energy jobs and the old fossil fuel ones. Energy industry workers employed by solar and wind power companies earn significantly less than those who mine coal or drill for natural gas, according to data compiled by former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz's clean energy think tank. For example, the median wage for solar workers is $24.48 an hour compared with $30.33 for those employed by the natural gas sector, which amounts to a roughly $12,000 annual wage gap. These wage disparities threaten to undermine Biden's promise that the nation can launch a multitrillion-dollar assault on climate change while growing its economy and transitioning workers to well-paying jobs.Biden himself gets that, said Jason Walsh, executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance, an organization of labor unions and environmental groups jointly working on environmental issues. He said Biden understands the value of the labor movement within the transition to a clean energy economy, and highlighted proposals in Biden's infrastructure plan unveiled last week to beef up clean energy job quality. "His understanding of labor, I think, extends to knowing intuitively that you can't expect workers and their representatives to embrace this transformation if they can't continue to get work that will pay family-sustaining wages and benefits and be a career," Walsh said. "The reality is that there is so much work that will be created by this transformation that it is just imperative that we get the job quality piece right."

A Green New Deal must put people first - The notion of a ‘Green New Deal’ has gained traction on both sides of the Atlantic. It is primarily politicians on the left such as Alexandra Ocasio-Cortezin the US and Yanis Varoufakis in Europe leading the charge for a transformative political agenda to accompany a transition to green energy.   Economist and former Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis told us last week there will be collateral damage: “There’s no way of eliminating all losses and all transition costs — social as well as economic.” Varoufakis rose to prominence during the eurozone’s sovereign debt crisis, becoming Greece’s finance minister in 2015 as part of the left-wing government led by Syriza. Following his resignation, he formed DiEM25, a pan-European political party that calls for a European Green New Deal.The programme, as currently envisaged, would cost 5 per cent of GDP every year and be funded through green bonds issued by a public investment bank, while a Universal Basic Income would unify workers across sectors and guarantee a wage to the newly redundant.“What matters now is a basic income — free of strings and denigrating processes of approval — it’s like a stepping stone, it allows you to stand on your own feet and reach for something else,” says Varoufakis. “[This] never applied to the mine workers who were made redundant at the start of the miners’ strike.”The Green New Deal would also help to ‘energise’ excess finance. “Look at the masses of liquidity in the financial sector gathering dust or being used [for] share buybacks,” says Varoufakis. “The Green New Deal is a set of policies that repurposes . . . existing liquidity [and] pushes it into . . . the climate change amelioration technologies.”But very little has been done to make this tangible. If climate change risks making much of the world uninhabitable, the current social tumult triggered by the global pandemic provides us with an opportunity to radically rethink the structure of our economies. Even the sceptics who point to the changing ecology of the Tundra as evidence that climate change could make previously uninhabitable environments fit for habitation, must concede that too would require a great deal of planning and preparation.One of the surprising realisations following life in lockdown is the extent to which we often rely on the office for human contact. If the discontent of the 80s and the pandemic teaches us anything, it's we desire the communities created at work as much as the work itself. If a Green New Deal aims to put people first, we need a bipartisan transition programme that equips individuals with as much time as possible to prepare for the ensuing radical transformation of the workforce. A Universal Basic Income might liberate the worker, but it won’t tackle our need for community.

Kerry: U.S. 'hopeful' it can work with China to tackle climate change (Reuters) - U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry said the United States was hopeful it could work with China to tackle climate change, despite longstanding disagreements that have affected the bilateral relationship. “Our hope is that we’re going to be able to deal with yes, China,” Kerry told reporters during a visit to the United Arab Emirates capital Abu Dhabi on Saturday. “President Biden has made it clear and I’ve made it clear: none of the other issues we have with China -- and there are issues -- is held hostage to or is engaged in a trade for what we need to do on climate.” Sino-U.S. relations have been strained in recent years by disagreements about trade, China’s treatment of its Uighur minority, as well as China’s actions in Taiwan and Hong Kong. China has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2060 while U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is expected to announce a new target for reducing emissions at a global climate summit on April 22. Kerry will take part in a climate dialogue for the Middle East and North Africa hosted by Abu Dhabi on Sunday. The UAE said the dialogue would focus on national and regional preparations ahead of a United Nations climate summit to be held in Glasgow in November. Kerry said the countries would discuss how to reduce a reliance on coal, as well as how to “raise ambitions” on climate change ahead of November’s conference. “I think the next generations are screaming at us to fulfill our promise,” he added.

 Revealed: The Climate-Conflicted Directors Leading the World’s Top Banks The majority of directors at the world’s biggest banks have affiliations to polluting companies and organisations, a DeSmog investigation shows. The findings raise concerns over a systemic conflict of interest at a time when the international financial sector is under increasing pressure to stop funding fossil fuels. DeSmog’s analysis found 65 percent of directors from 39 banks had 940 past or current connections to industries that could be considered climate-conflicted. Directors with affiliations to companies involved in extracting oil, gas and coal – the world’s most polluting energy sources – were well-represented across bank boardrooms, with 16 percent of all board members having current or previous roles in the polluting energy sector. There were also significant ties to banks and investment vehicles supporting polluting industries, as well as to thinktanks and lobbying groups with a history of campaigning against climate action. Geoffrey Supran, Research Associate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University, said the existence of such ties is “predictable, yet shocking”. “The fossil fuel industry has a well-established track record of ingratiating itself with society’s opinion leaders and decision makers, and because of the revolving doors between the corporate leaderships of incumbent industries,” he told DeSmog. “Having its fingers in all the pies allows the fossil fuel industry to quietly put its thumb on the scales of institutional decision making, helping delay action and protect the status quo.” The investigation assessed the employment history and affiliations of 565 bank directors from the boards of major retail banks in the UK, US, Canada, Europe, South Africa, China and Japan. Directors were found to have a wide range of experience in high carbon sectors, including in polluting energy, aviation, mining, manufacturing, and banks and investment companies known to support the fossil fuel industry. These positions ranged from director and advisory roles, to employment by the companies, and trade association or thintank memberships or affiliations (with data collected up to January 31, 2021). Banks are increasingly saying they will decarbonise by 2050, yet a large number continue to finance fossil fuels, the primary source of carbon emissions. To accelerate action, shareholder activists have filed climate resolutions for upcoming AGMs at three of the institutions analysed. UK bank Barclays and Japan’s biggest bank Mitsubishi UFJ (MUFJ) are considering resolutions for stricter regulations on lending. US bank Wells Fargo is facing a resolution to remove its Chair.

A Top U.S. Seller of Carbon Offsets Starts Investigating Its Own Projects - Following concerns that it is facilitating the sale of meaningless carbon credits to corporate clients, the Nature Conservancy says it’s conducting an internal review of its portfolio of carbon-offset projects. The nonprofit owns or has helped develop more than 20 such projects on forested lands mostly in the U.S., which generate credits that are purchased by such companies as JPMorgan Chase & Co., BlackRock Inc., and Walt Disney Co., which use them to claim large reductions in their own publicly reported emissions.  The self-examination follows a Bloomberg Green investigation last year that found the world’s largest environmental group taking credit for preserving trees in no danger of destruction. The internal review is a sign that it’s at least questioning some practices that have become widespread in the environmental world, and could carry implications for the broader market for carbon credits.  While the Nature Conservancy declined to answer specific questions about the review, it said in a statement that it aims to meet the highest standards with its carbon projects and that the inquiry will be led by scientists and a “team of experts with deep project knowledge.”  Selling credits for well-protected trees potentially undermines the sustainability efforts of some of the world’s biggest companies. Each carbon offset is supposed to represent the reduction of one ton of planet-warming emissions that would have otherwise spewed into the atmosphere without intervention. Around the world, a wide variety of offset projects do everything from protect mangrove forests to destroy heat-trapping gases from landfills and coal mines. But offset payments channeled to already safe ecosystems don’t fundamentally change the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. “The way the Nature Conservancy has gone about this is unconscionable,” says Charles Canham, a forest ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and a longtime board member of a local chapter of the Conservancy. For forest offsets, the difference between the existing trees and the theoretical trees in the baseline scenario determines the amount of carbon credits that get to be sold. But lax rules have allowed project developers to make unlikely claims that huge numbers of well-protected trees were going to be cut. In the case of the Conservancy, many of its projects claim the forests would have been harvested aggressively—much as a commercial timber company would do—in the absence of carbon payments. While this allows the nonprofit to sell more carbon credits, Canham says it doesn’t realistically reflect how a conservation group would manage its land.

Tribes talk priorities with ‘formidable guardian’ Haaland - (AP) — Native American leaders told U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland they see her as a “formidable guardian” and steward of their interests Tuesday during the pueblo woman’s first official trip to her home state, an emotional visit that focused on pandemic relief and underscored the significance of her confirmation. Dozens of tribal leaders gathered in the courtyard of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque for a discussion with Haaland, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, New Mexico Indian Affairs Secretary Lynn Trujillo and members of the state’s congressional delegation. Tribal leaders told the group their prayers were answered when Haaland was chosen to head the Interior Department, which has broad authority over Native Americans. Haaland is the first-ever Native American cabinet secretary. She wiped tears from her eyes during her introduction and received a standing ovation. “Help is on the way,” she told the group — a refrain that Joe Biden’s administration has been echoing from coast to coast during the many visits White House officials and others have been making to tout the federal government’s latest COVID-19 relief package. Haaland reiterated that every federal agency must recognize its responsibilities to tribes. She also acknowledged the devastating effects of the pandemic on New Mexico’s pueblos and said the Interior Department also lost employees to COVID-19. She placed her hand over her heart as she listened to stories from pueblo leaders and took notes. More broadly, Haaland pressed for addressing climate change and moving toward a clean energy economy. Tribal governors told Haaland that protecting Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico is a top priority, saying they are frustrated that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management hasn’t done more to stem oil and gas development.

Electric school buses: a part of Biden’s infrastructure plan with big benefits - President Joe Biden’s new infrastructure proposal has a lot going on: replacing lead pipes, expanding broadband, improving roads and trains, investing in green energy technologies, and permanently altering the tax landscape to pay for it.But one of its smartest provisions has mostly flown under the radar — a proposal to switch at least one-fifth of the school bus fleet from diesel to electric.It may seem like a minor idea, bundled with other provisions in the plan’s splashy electric vehicle push, but it’s a low-key consequential one. There’s substantial evidence that breathing diesel fumes puts kids at risk and harms their performance at school. Until recently, the battery technology just wasn’t there to switch buses over to electric — but now it is. And Congress should make sure it’s in the final version of the infrastructure bill.It’s no secret that air pollution is bad for people. But more and more research suggests we still underrate its impacts — air pollution really is more harmful than we know. Breathing polluted air causes short-term harm: People exposed to fumes struggle with cognitive tasks and focus. It also causes long-term harm: The more pollution a person breathes in, the greater their odds of hospitalization, health complications, and death.Meta-analyses of hundreds of studies have found strong associations between low levels of air pollution and deadly cardiorespiratory diseases. One recent study looked at the effects of diesel cars that were supposed to meet emissions guidelines, but did not, and suggested that even the slight increase in air pollution from one cheating car meant more kids hospitalized and more babies born prematurely.Another study found that air pollution worsens dementia substantially. And another found that dust pollution in Africa drives a 22 percent increase in child mortality. While hospitalization, life-threatening emergencies, and death are the most dramatic effects of air pollution, there’s a lot of evidence that it’s affecting the rest of us, too. That’s what has driven some researchers to say there is no safe level of air pollution.

Biden plan calls for $100 bln in new EV consumer rebates -email  (Reuters) - The Biden administration’s $174 billion proposal to boost electric vehicles calls for $100 billion in new consumer rebates and $15 billion to build 500,000 new electric vehicle charging stations, according to a U.S. Transportation Department email sent to congressional staff and seen by Reuters. The EV rebates, part of a $2.3 trillion infrastructure and jobs proposal, could be a big boost to U.S. automakers, especially General Motors and Tesla Inc, which no longer qualify for $7,500 tax credits after they sold more than 200,000 zero-emission models. The White House declined to say how the $100 billion would be distributed or how much the grants will be. In 2019, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer proposed awarding $392 billion in subsidies for owners to trade in gasoline-powered vehicles at least eight years old and in driving condition for electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid or fuel-cell cars. The old vehicles would be scrapped. The Biden plan also calls for $20 billion for electric school buses, $25 billion for zero emission transit vehicles and $14 billion in other EV tax incentives. Treasury said in a report the proposed incentives are “to encourage people to switch to electric vehicles and efficient electric appliances.” Senator Debbie Stabenow and Representative Dan Kildee, both Michigan Democrats, have been working on a bill to revise and expand the EV tax credit, they said in a recent joint interview with Reuters. Kildee wants to skew the credit in favor of vehicles with more affordable vehicles with longer range, to “democratize the electric vehicle market.” He said they are “looking at ways to make the credit more accessible to middle- and lower-income families, potentially even making the credit refundable.”

The U.S. is facing a lithium-ion battery shortage as electric vehicle production ramps up -- As automakers continue to grapple with a semiconductor shortage, some experts say the next supply chain crisis for the U.S. could involve lithium-ion batteries.As companies like GM, Ford and a slew of start-ups ramp up their electric vehicle ambitions, current battery production in the U.S. won't be able to keep up with demand.Though the U.S. has a handful of large-scale battery manufacturing facilities, including Tesla's Gigafactory that operates in partnership with Panasonic, a trade dispute between two Korean battery makers, LG Chem and SK Innovation, threatens the future of a new battery factory in Georgia.Watch the video to learn why the U.S. has fallen behind China and Europe, and what needs to happen in order to avoid a bottleneck in EV production.

Betting Big On Electric Vehicles, Biden Faces Fraught Decision On Ga. Battery Plant : NPR --President Biden is pushing hard to get more Americans to buy electric vehicles to rein in global warming and spur domestic manufacturing.The $2 trillion infrastructure plan he is trying to sell to Congress includes about $174 billion to boost electric vehicle sales and production — more than the president proposes spending on roads and bridges.But Biden has now been pulled into a global trade dispute over the fate of lithium ion battery factories in Georgia that threatens his electric vehicle goals for the United States and the Democratic Party's fragile success in the key swing state.The South Korean corporation SK Innovation has built a large battery factory about 70 miles northeast of Atlanta, in the city of Commerce, population 7,000. Another factory alongside it is under construction, and a third is in the works. All told, they are expected to represent 2 million square feet of manufacturing space.Yet earlier this year, SK said its Georgia operation may shut down because of a ruling against the company by the U.S. International Trade Commission in a dispute with LG Chem, a competitor also based in South Korea.Even with the deep political divisions in the state, Georgia Democrats and Republicans have found common cause in trying to save the factories.Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock said the ITC decision "threatens seriously" the future of the project in Commerce and Biden's own goals."We would lose 2,600 clean energy jobs in the short term, and 10,000 in the long term," he said during a Senate Commerce Committee meeting earlier this year.  In a letter to the Biden administration, Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp requested that the president overrule the trade commission, which he has the power to do.

Biden’s plan to rev up the electric car market is complicated by battery supplies - President Biden’s ambitious plan to jump-start the U.S. electric vehicle market faces a roadblock: a weak supply chain that is making it difficult for American automakers to get enough batteries to scale up production.And that shortage could get worse, depending on whether Biden intervenes this week in a dispute between two top South Korean manufacturers over moves by one to open a battery plant in Georgia to serve the U.S. market. Hanging in the balance are plans by Volkswagen and Ford to roll out about 340,000 new electric vehicles over the next several years.The two South Korean rivals, SK Innovation and LG Energy Solution, are fighting over a factory that SK has been building in Commerce, Ga., to serve VW and Ford, among others. LG accused SK of stealing trade secrets, and the U.S. International Trade Commission agreed, ruling that SK can make batteries in Georgia for only four years before it must essentially shut down its new plant.“Remember that old proverb,” Biden said in February when he signed an executive order to review supply chain issues involving electric car batteries. ” ‘For want of a nail, the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe, the horse was lost.’ And it goes on and on until the kingdom was lost, all for the want of a horseshoe nail. Even small failures at one point in the supply chain can cause outside impacts further up the chain.”Many companies are eager to answer Biden’s call, offering myriad solutions, including scooping up rare minerals that lie in softball-size nodules on the ocean floor, changing battery chemistry and assembling and packing battery cells in factories around the United States.“There is an arms race around the world to build as much lithium capacity as possible to gain dominance in the electric vehicle space,” said Simon Moores, managing director of London-based Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, specializing in lithium-ion batteries and the electric vehicle supply chain.The decision in the trade case, which was before the U.S. International Trade Commission, would force SK to shut down its Georgia plant. Moores, who was paid by SK to study the U.S. market, says closing that factory would take 15 percent of batteries off the market this year and 8 percent in 2030, reducing U.S. capacity by more than 50,000 vehicles a year.

EPA to propose vehicle emissions standards to meet 'the urgency of the climate crisis' by July's end -- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is preparing to propose stricter emissions standards for vehicles by the end of July, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said Tuesday. Regan told Bloomberg News in an interview that the new standards would be sufficient to meet “the urgency of the climate crisis.” “We need to go as far as we can to meet the demands of the day,” Regan added. “The science indicates we have a short window in time to reverse the path that we’re on and mitigate against certain climate impacts.” An EPA spokesperson told The Hill that the timeline was dictated by an executive order from President Biden that requires the administration to review the former Trump administration’s rule that relaxed the emissions limits by July. The spokesperson confirmed that the EPA is on track to meet that timeline. That rule also loosened the requirement for fuel economy standards, which dictate how much gasoline per mile that the U.S. fleet can consume, which the Biden administration could also tighten. The executive order also requires a review this month of the decision to revoke California’s ability to set its own tailpipe emissions standards, which have been stricter than the federal government’s standards and adopted by a number of other states. Regan told Bloomberg that he is “a firm believer in the state’s statutory authority to lead.” According to the news outlet, he also did not rule out the possibility for additional regulations in the future that would essentially ban new conventional gas-powered cars. “We’re taking a strong look at what the science is urging us to do. We’re looking at where technologies are,” the administrator said. “We’re marrying our regulatory policy and what we have the statutory authority to do with where the science directs us and where the markets and technology are.” The transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country, making up 28 percent of the country’s emissions as of 2018, meaning that these standards could have major impacts on the country’s contribution to climate change.

Ford Transit to Be First Russia-Built Electric Vehicle - A spokesman for Russian automaker Sollers says the Ford Transit BEV will be built simultaneously with the diesel-powered version of the van. Planned production volumes and other details of the project have not been disclosed. 

Ohio Paint Factory Explosion Injures Eight -- Multiple people injured in paint plant explosion in northeast ColumbusYouTube -An explosion at an Ohio paint factory injured eight people, two of them critically.The fire ignited just after midnight on Thursday at Yenkin-Majestic Paints in Columbus, Ohio, NBC4 reported. Firefighters arriving on the scene were met with employees exiting the building, five of whom were injured and needed to be taken to a hospital."Two other employees were trapped inside the building and had to be rescued. They are in critical condition at OSU Main," Columbus Fire Battalion Chief Steve Martin told ABC News.Everyone harmed in the fire are plant employees. One person remains missing; the Columbus Division of Fire wrote on Facebook that they had searched the entire building.Martin told the paper that firefighters were doing everything they could to find the missing person. About 40 employees were in the plant when the fire started, The Columbia Dispatch reported.The explosion that started the fire damaged part of the building where it ignited, making the search and rescue effort more difficult. The spreading fire triggered other explosions, including one in another building within 100 feet from the first building that caught fire.Firefighters managed to contain the blaze by 5:15 a.m., according to the Columbus Division of Fire."There will still be visible black smoke rising from the original fire building as we let some of the products burn off," the division wrote on Facebook.The cause of the fire remains under investigation. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) workers checked the surrounding air and water for chemicals, WBNS reported.

Texas Storm Is Windfall for Some Wall Street Firms – WSJ -A handful of Wall Street firms that bet big on the power sector in recent years made millions in paper profits when the winter storm in Texas boosted demand for the electricity generated by plants they own. SoftBank Group Corp.’s Fortress Investment Group LLC and Kennedy Lewis Investment Management LLC, a $3 billion credit hedge fund in New York, were two of the biggest winners in the trade. Other significant investors include Avenue Capital Group, Guggenheim Partners LLC, JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s asset-management arm and Pacific Investment Management Co.In February, when subfreezing temperatures forced the state’s grid operator to call for widespread blackouts, some natural-gas plants in Texas were still able to sell electricity to power hundreds of thousands of homes, often at higher than usual prices. Collectively, two companies—Temple Generation I and TexGen Power—that own many of the plants made more than an estimated $200 million over the storm’s course, according to investors in the power-generation companies.Owning more than 90% of Temple and TexGen are overlapping sets of investment firms.In the wake of the Texas storm, there have been state hearings and public outrage at energy price increases that were pushed onto retailers. Some of the state’s largest power-generation companies lost hundreds of millions of dollars each as they grappled with outages and gas supply issues.The plants largely owned by Wall Street firms took steps in the days before the storm to increase the chances they would remain operational. In the end, they were among the few to actually make money.Fortress, Kennedy Lewis, Avenue, Guggenheim, JPMorgan’s asset-management arm and Pimco declined to disclose the return on their investment or speak publicly about any profits.

FERC seeks more input on PJM capacity market construct, possible reforms  - Following up on discussions during a technical conference in March, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is seeking additional input on capacity market constructs as state policies are increasingly affecting resource entry and exit, including whether new market rules could be implemented in PJM Interconnection without delaying its December capacity auction. Grid operators and stakeholders for the most part supported doing away with minimum offer price rules, as currently constructed and imposed on capacity markets in the Eastern regional transmission organizations, during a March 23 commissioner-led technical conference, the first in a series planned to help modernize electricity market design. Conversations focused on PJM's expanded MOPR revealed mixed opinions as to what should follow, with participants offering a range of views on how the 13-state grid operator's multi-billion-dollar capacity market can support states' varying decarbonization strategies.FERC in an April 5 notice (AD21-10) invited interested parties to submit post-technical conference comments by April 26, with reply comments due May 10.While the notice said comments could be filed on any topic discussed at the technical conference, which also looked at ISO New England and New York Independent System Operator's capacity markets, the commission specified 22 questions it would like answered on the implications of retaining PJM's existing MOPR and prospective alternative approaches that could replace the current framework.FERC, through the notice, asked commenters to reflect on the urgency in which they believe PJM's capacity market rules must be reconciled with state policies. Among the questions was whether a phased approach should be adopted, and if so, should short-term actions include eliminating the expanded MOPR and replacing it with a targeted MOPR.S&P Global Platts Analytics maintains that the current MOPR's impact on PJM's upcoming capacity auction for the 2022-23 delivery year will be "negligible.""The amount of renewables subject to MOPR and thereby removed as price takers from the supply curve is not sufficient to materially impact clearing prices RTO-wide," analyst Kieran Kemmerer said in an April 6 email. "Additionally, existing nuclear resources receiving subsidies and subject to a non-zero offer price floor [in Illinois and Ohio] have struggled to clear in recent auctions, and thereby an imposition of an offer price floor is unlikely to alter offer behavior or influence clearing prices relative to delivery year 2021-22." Kemmerer added that Platts Analytics is bearish in its outlook for RTO clearing prices, "driven primarily by updates to [PJM's demand curve, or variable resource requirement,] and an influx of new gas-fired generation in western PJM."

After passing a landmark climate law, Mass. officials now face the hard part: how to wean the state off fossil fuels - Over the coming decades, the state’s largest utilities have plans to spend billions of dollars upgrading a vast network of aging pipes and mains that distribute natural gas, after billions they’ve already spent in recent years.But much of those plans clash with a landmark bill that Governor Charlie Baker signed last month that requires the state to effectively eliminate its carbon emissions by 2050.Some environmental advocates and lawmakers fear that continued investments in gas infrastructure could hinder the transition to renewable energy and leave ratepayers covering the costs of an obsolete energy system for decades. They support repairing leaky pipes and those that pose a danger to the public, but they’re pressing the utilities to spend far more on zero-emissions technologies.“It’s just fiscally irresponsible, and it sets up a classic utility death spiral,” said Zeyneb Pervane Magavi, co-executive director of HEET, a Cambridge nonprofit that specializes in energy efficiency. “As people move off the gas system, you have fewer people paying for it, meaning they will be shouldering more of the costs. It’s a disaster.”Officials at the largest gas companies have issued mixed messages, saying in public they fully support the state’s efforts to drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels. But in private meetings with industry colleagues they have suggested they would resist efforts to curtail the use of gas, which has been a cash cow for utilities. It’s now up to state officials to decide how and when to compel utilities to phase out their reliance on gas, which they long touted as a “bridge fuel” to an emissions-free era, as it releases less carbon than oil and coal. Gas now heats more than half of all homes in Massachusetts.

Seward plant enters consent agreement with DEP, pays $108,000 civil penalty — The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said Wednesday that it entered into a consent order and agreement with Seward Generation LLC to resolve outstanding violations to the Air Pollution Control Act at its waste coal-fired, steam electrical generation station in East Wheatfield Township.In the consent order dated March 31, DEP said Seward Generation LLC agreed to pay a $108,000 civil penalty, submit a plan approval application for the modification and submit detailed information about operating conditions for the preceding month, at the plant across the Conemaugh River from Seward.According to the order, Seward has 60 days to submit to DEP “an administratively complete plan approval application that contains an analysis of the best available technology for reduction” of sulfur dioxide emissions from two circulating fluidized bed wste coal-fired boilers. “Companies are required to install and maintain the best available technology to minimize the emissions from air pollution sources,” said John Holden, acting director of DEP’s Northwest Regional Office in Meadville, which covers Indiana County. “They are also responsible for anticipating changes to their operations to avoid violating the conditions of their permits.”Under a contract with Seward Generation, NRG Maintenance Services LLC operates that station at 595 Plant Road, between Seward and New Florence boroughs on the Indiana County side of the Conemaugh River.

Feds yank Okla. mining oversight after tribal lands ruling -- Wednesday, April 7, 2021 --  The Interior Department told Oklahoma last week that it will take over coal mine regulations on the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Reservation after a Supreme Court ruling last year reestablishing tribal jurisdiction over land in the state.

White House Climate Advisor Sees A Path To Clean Energy Through Coal Country -For decades now, rhetoric around action on climate change has been about things like saving the planet, or saving polar bears. Just think: How many times have you seen an image of ice crashing into the sea from a melting glacier, or a sad-eyed seal atop a floe, as part of a climate change message? But Gina McCarthy — the veteran environmental policy maker President Joe Biden has picked as his top climate advisor — is making a very different case for climate action. “I want people to know that this isn’t about a planet. This is about our people. This is about our families,” McCarthy said in our recent interview. Forget about polar bears and seals. McCarthy wants to talk about plumbers and steelworkers and the other blue-collar Americans who could play a part in greening the country’s infrastructure and economy. It’s not that melting ice caps and the like don’t matter for her — they do. But she’s more interested in making action on climate change something that ordinary working people can feel that they have a stake in, rather than something they have to worry about as a potential threat to their livelihoods. “We do have to act, we have to act on climate,” she said. “But we also have to act to make sure that there’s no worker and no community left behind.” The coal and gas producing parts of the Ohio Valley and Appalachia are, arguably, among the most likely to feel left behind by a clean energy transition. Communities there have long depended on extracting and burning fossil fuels for jobs and revenue. Fears about the job losses that could come from climate action became ready fodder for Donald Trump’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns. Kudzu grows near a coal preparation plant in eastern Kentucky. But the region’s coal sector has suffered years of steady declines, even in the absence of a cohesive national policy on climate change, and even with the support of a friendly Trump administration.

Bill requiring utilities to keep 30-day coal supply under contract moves closer to passage - The West Virginia House Energy and Manufacturing Committee advanced a bill Tuesday that would require coal-fired power plants owned by public electric utilities to keep at least 30 days of coal supply under contract for the lifespan of those plants. Senate Bill 542, which now goes before the full House of Delegates, also would require public electric utilities to give notice to the West Virginia Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the state Public Service Commission and the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Government and Finance before announcing the retirement or proposed shutdown of an electricity-generating unit.

Some lawmakers want to change how natural resources are taxed — but it would end up costing local governments - Two bills to change how West Virginia’s natural resources are valued for property tax purposes are moving through the Legislature. Proponents say the measures — which would probably lower the taxes companies pay — are necessary to address statutory and constitutional requirements. But it could also reduce the tax money that goes to counties, and many local officials are balking at the price tag. “There’s a lot of legislation this session that would impact counties financially, and it seems like it’s all coming at once,” said Jennifer Piercy, executive director of the County Commissioners’ Association of West Virginia. “Counties want to be involved in these conversations, because we’re directly affected.” Piercy said many counties are already struggling financially. Most have seen declining populations that lead to less property tax revenue, on top of high jail costs and losses driven by the pandemic, such as by dips in hotel-motel tax revenue, she said. “I think that the fundamental question here people have to ask [is], ‘Are the large companies going to pay these taxes?’” said Delegate David Pethtel, D-Wetzel. “Or is the county commission and school board? Do they have to raise the levy rate and put this back on individual property homeowners?” State property must be assessed equally and uniformly, per the West Virginia Constitution. According to state law, property must also be assessed at its “true and actual value.” A pair of industry-supported bills have been introduced, sparked by concern that these standards are not being met. House Bill 2581 would change the way the state’s oil and gas wells are taxed, while House Bill 2493 would change coal property’s taxation. The bills have been gaining momentum: both have passed the House of Delegates and still have a chance of passing the Senate before the session ends late Saturday. The state Tax Department estimated that a former version of the oil and gas well bill would have cost counties more than $9 million total in its first full year, with most of the losses congregated in a handful of counties. A fiscal note for the bill says that some losses to county school boards would be offset by the state School Aid Formula, which is funded through the state’s general revenue. But local school boards would still see an overall decrease of $5.2 million for schools alone and would cost the state $1.1 million in the 2023 fiscal year under the Public School Support Plan. But the decision over changes has been delayed. An amendment approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday afternoon delays any changes, leaving the role of developing such a rule to the state Tax Department. The bill has now been sent to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.

 More U.S. Coal Power Retired Under Trump Than in Obama 2nd Term -Remember all of Donald Trump’s promises to put coal miners back to work? Turns out, his repeated attacks on the environment to try and bail out dirty fuels were all for naught. More coal-fired power was taken off the grid under Trump’s presidency than under former President Barack Obama’s second term, a new analysis from Global Energy Monitor shows.Trump’s only been out of office for a couple months, but it’s kind of wild to remember just how hard Trump worked to do favors for the coal industry. In addition to rolling back more than 100 environmental regulations over the course of his term, let’s not forget how cozy he was with coal executives—and how his Department of Energy tried to check off items from a literal “wish list” of suggestions to save the industry from coal baron Bob Murray.But the new report, which is the 2020 version of an annual release from Global Energy Monitor, a non-governmental organization that keeps track of fossil fuels, has the cold, hard truth: A coal-friendly Washington was no match for the market forces that were dragging down coal, plus a pandemic in Trump’s last year that hit the industry hard.“The fact that coal plant retirements under Trump exceeded Obama shows that coal is in structural decline in the U.S.,” Christine Shearer, the Program Director for coal at Global Energy Monitor, said in an email. “Coal simply cannot compete with lower-cost alternatives, even with a presidential administration that did everything in its power to increase coal use and prolong the life of coal plants.”Over the four years Trump was in office, a total of 52.4 GW of coal-fired power was retired, compared to 48.9 GW in Obama’s second term. (Only 18 GW of coal power was retired under Obama’s first term.) This is a little different from the number of coal plants: 289 coal-fired units retired in Obama’s second term, versus 172 in Trump’s term. But those numbers alone don’t tell the story: “A lot of small coal units retired under Obama, and the units that retired under Trump were bigger on average,” Shearer explained.Before you celebrate, there is some bad news on the global coal front. According to the report, the world actually added coal capacity development last year for the first time in five years, despite coal plants falling like flies in the U.S. and other countries. Most of this new development was in China, which commissioned 38.4 GW of new coal plants last year—76% of the world’s total new construction.

China Started More Coal Plants Than The Entire World Retired In 2020 - Despite commitments to become a net-zero emission economy by 2060, China—the world’s biggest carbon emitter—commissioned more coal-fired capacity last year than the rest of the world retired, a new report showed this week.China’s coal boom in 2020 more than offset the retirements in coal capacity in the rest of the world, leading to the first increase in global coal capacity development since 2015, a report led by Global Energy Monitor (GEM) found.China commissioned 38.4 gigawatts (GW) of new coal plants in 2020, offsetting the record-tying 37.8 GW of coal capacity retired last year, the report showed.China’s coal boom accounted for 76 percent of the global 50.3 GW new coal capacity. Globally, commissioning of new plants plunged by 34 percent annually in 2020 due to difficulties obtaining financing and delays due to the pandemic. India, which continues to rely on coal, saw coal power capacity increase by just 0.7 GW in 2020, with 2.0 GW commissioned and 1.3 GW retired, according to the report. China also has 88.1 GW of coal power under construction. Another 158.7 GW is proposed for construction. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is retreating from coal capacity and is announcing coal retirements.Last year, the retirements were led by the U.S. with 11.3 GW and the EU with 10.1 GW of retired coal capacity.

Texas radioactive waste disposal company seeking break from state fees and surcharges— Depending on who is interpreting it, legislation moving closer to a vote in the Texas House and Senate would either shut the door to the state ever becoming home to high-level radioactive waste or carve at a path to bring it in.Two separate but similar bills – one in the House and the other in the Senate – seek to lower state fees and surcharges imposed on a company called Waste Control Specialists that operates a storage and disposal site in Andrews County, near Texas' border with New Mexico. Federal regulators are reviewing plans to sell retiring nuclear reactors to nuclear waste management company for quicker decommissioning. Questions have been raised about whether the companies have the experience and funds to do the job. (May 21) (Photo: AP)The site houses low-level radioactive waste from facilities such as nuclear power plants, sundry industries and from health care facilities that use x-ray and radiation therapy for care of their patients.Waste Control Specialists says it needs the financial breaks that would cost the state about $1.4 million a year to remain competitive. But environmental groups opposing both bills argue that the breaks would leave Texas short of money in the event WCS should go belly up and taxpayers would be stuck with the bill for managing the site for centuries into the future.The environmentalists have an unlikely ally in one of Andrews County's oldest traditional energy companies and its largest private landowner, Fasken Oil and Ranch Ltd.The legislation's chief authors. Odessa Republican Brooks Landgraf in the House and Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, in the Senate, say it contains safeguards to prohibit high-level radioactive waste from ever being shipped to Andrews County for disposal.  "A person, including the compact waste disposal facility license holder, may not dispose of or store high-level radioactive waste or spent nuclear fuel in this state," a section in both bills reads. Landgraf's version, House Bill 2692, has passed out of committee and is awaiting placement on the full House's calendar. Committee consideration of the Senate version, S.B. 1046, could come as soon as Thursday.

Texas lawmakers want to ban dangerous radioactive waste. The proposal would give a nuclear waste company a big financial break. - As a nuclear waste company’s plan to store the most dangerous type of radioactive waste in West Texas moves forward at the federal level, state lawmakers are aiming to ban the materials from entering the state.Environmental and consumer advocates for years have decried a proposal to build a 332-acre site in West Texas near the New Mexico border to store the riskiest type of nuclear waste: spent fuel rods from nuclear power plants, which can remain dangerously radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years.A bill advancing in the House, filed by Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, whose district includes Andrews County — where the proposed facility would be located — seeks to stop the plan by banning that type of radioactive waste from being disposed of or stored in Texas. But House Bill 2692 would also give that same company a big break on state fees it pays for its existing disposal facility for lower-risk radioactive waste. “This bill bans high-level waste altogether,” Landgraf said during a committee hearing in March, “and focuses on making low-level waste the safest and best, most competitive and most efficient facility it can be.”Waste Control Specialists has been disposing of the nation’s low-level nuclear waste, including tools, building materials and protective clothing exposed to radioactivity, for a decade in Andrews County. The company is currently pursuing, with a partner, a federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission license to store spent nuclear fuel on a site adjacent to its existing facility.Interim Storage Partners applied for the license in 2016. Scientists agree that spent nuclear fuel, which is currently stored at nuclear power plants, should be stored deep underground, but the U.S. still hasn’t located a suitable site. The Interim Storage Partners plan proposes storing it in above-ground casks until a permanent location is found. It expects federal regulators to make a decision sometime this year.

NRC fines Fla. utility $150K over falsified nuclear records -- Friday, April 9, 2021  --The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued a $150,000 fine against Florida Power & Light Co. after finding that workers at a nuclear plant in Miami-Dade County deliberately put wrong information on maintenance records two years ago.

Japan Comes Clean, Admits Dumping Fukushima Radioactive Water In Pacific Ocean Is Now "Unavoidable" --While Japan last month marked the 10th anniversary of the devastating 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami with solemn ceremonies, the government has also been stressing the successes of its recovery efforts in the country’s northeast. In truth, however, the country is still coping with the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, which has already cost Japan trillions of yen and whose exclusion zone will require up to 40 more years to fully rehabilitate.And with contaminated water continuing to build up at the ruined Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says that the government must finally begin dumping it into the Pacific Ocean.With nuclear waste and fuel rods still contaminating the area, over one million tons of radioactive waste water continue to seep from the facility, according to The Japan Times, forcing authorities into what Suga describes as the“unavoidable” position of having to dump the water.Officials claim that the water would be purified to the maximum extent possible, but environmentalist groups like Greenpeace warn that the water contains hazardous material that could damage human DNA and the health of marine life.Fishermen also fear that consumers will refuse to buy fish caught in contaminated waters, worsening their plightamid a restriction of imports from Fukushima prefecture imposed by 15 countries and regions.

Man who claims he had bomb outside nuclear plant arrested — A Michigan man who drove to a nuclear power plant outside Cleveland and claimed he had a bomb has been arrested.The Lake County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement released Thursday that a 33-year-old man from Adrian, Michigan, drove to the entrance of the Perry Nuclear Power Plant around 6 p.m. Wednesday and refused to leave.He told plant security officers he had a bomb in the trailer attached to his pickup truck, officials said. No bomb was found.The Sheriff’s Office said there was no ongoing or imminent threat to the plant in North Perry Village. The man could face false alarms and aggravated trespassing charges, officials said. He is being held in the Lake County Jail.An independent company called Energy Harbor took ownership of the plant and other FirstEnergy Corp. assets in February 2020 as part of a deal struck in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.The plant is roughly 35 miles (56 kilometers) northeast of downtown Cleveland.

Perry Nuclear Power Plant incident: Michigan man arrested  --A 33-year-old man from Adrian, Michigan, has been arrested for his alleged role in a "law enforcement situation" that took place at the Nuclear Power Plant in Lake County on Wednesday.The Lake County Sheriff's Office announced Thursday morning that Michael Fogelsong was booked into the Lake County Jail on charges of making false alarms (a third-degree felony) and aggravated trespass (a first-degree misdemeanor). Additional charges may follow pending an investigation, authorities said."Upon arrival, it was found that the male had driven a pickup truck pulling an enclosed trailer to the entrance of the facility," according to a press release from the Lake County Sheriff's Office. "When confronted by plant security, the male claimed to have a bomb in the trailer."Neither the truck nor the trailer contained any dangerous materials "after a detailed inspection by the Lake County Bomb Squad."Authorities say their investigation led to Fogelsong's arrest, but investigators are still looking into the situation. "We want to ensure everyone that there is no ongoing threat or imminent threat to the Perry Nuclear Power Plant," authorities said. "This appears to be an isolated incident." Falls Communications, which handles public relations for Energy Harbor Nuclear Corporation (the owner of Perry), previously reported that the situation involved two people who mistakenly drove onto the property.

USA looks forward to making its move— The Utica Shale Academy is making preparations to possibly move out of its current location at Southern Local High School and into a building in Salineville recently donated to Southern by Williams Energy. USA Superintendent Bill Watson said while nothing is definite yet, it is an exciting option. There have been architects inside the Kenneth Hutson Building on East Main Street and it has now been approved for a capacity of 220 students, which will provide enough space for the technical programs and career-based intervention programs offered through the USA, as well as space for growth. Watson said the architects have completed drawings and the building could be ready for them as early as June or July. The elevator is operable and the fire suppression system is up to date. Additionally, Watson said being in Salineville at a location near the park will give students a chance to earn credit, possibly a community seal, for giving back to the community. Lori Woods, who attends the meetings as a sponsor of the USA through the Ohio Department of Education, said Tuesday she got a chance to see the new building and she was looking forward to everything that was happening there. In the future she will be helping them look at options for local seals that students can use to help them qualify for graduation.  As of Tuesday, 33 seniors are on track to graduate from the USA with enough credits as long as they continue to follow through to the end of the school year. Watson asked the board to approve up to $11,545 total in wellness stipends to be split between two staff members who will contact the students and lend them support through graduation. Watson said they did this last year and 20 out of 20 senior students graduated, despite everything being changed in their lives due to Covid-19.

U.S. Secretary Of Energy Jennifer Granholm Says There Is A Future For Some Fossil Fuels In Western Pa. – CBS Pittsburgh — (video & transcript) This region has often been called the Saudi Arabia of natural gas. What’s the future of natural gas and other fossil fuels under the Biden administration? In an interview seen only on KDKA, political editor Jon Delano spoke with the new U.S. secretary of energy for some answers.

Marcellus and Utica Shales in the United States of America Report- Gas Shale Market Analysis and Outlook to 2021 -The Appalachia Basin which is made up of the Marcellus formations and the Utica Shale, accounted for more than 40% of the natural gas produced in the United States in 2020. Most of the production comes from the state of Pennsylvania and Ohio and partially from West Virginia. Unlike many of the oil plays in the US Lower 48, the natural gas plays including the Appalachia Basin saw a less drastic change in production and drilling activity during the economic contraction caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. While major oil-producing operators slashed their 2020 capital expenditure up to 50% – 60%, the top three producers in the Appalachia Basin EQT Corporation, Antero Resources, and Southwestern Energy have only cut their capital by 20%, 35% and 40%, respectively. This region averaged 32.19 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day (bcfd) and 33.44 bcfd in 2019 and 2020, respectively. The report analyzes the crude oil and natural gas appraisal and production activities in Marcellus and Utica Shales play in the US. The scope of the report includes –
– Comprehensive analysis of natural gas and crude oil historical production and short term outlook of Marcellus and Utica shale plays during 2019-2021
– Detailed information of impact on well development, permits and deals due to COVID-19 pandemic
– In-depth information on net acreage, operational performance and financial standings of major operators in Marcellus and Utica shale plays
– Analysis of top companies’ future plans and cost trends in 2020
– Up-to-date information on associated infrastructure and major mergers and acquisitions in Marcellus and Utica shale plays between 2018 and 2020

Valley Creek fouled at Mariner pipeline construction site (photos) —According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Mariner East 2 pipeline drilling near the Chester County Library is dumping about 700 gallons per minute, or a million gallons per day, of rusty brown water laden with silt and clay into Valley Creek. A brown plume is visible entering the renowned trout stream from the south end of the library parking lot. Up to 10 inches of soil-laden water covers much of the dense wetlands between the creek and drilling site near the 185-home Meadowbrook Manor subdivision. Township residents Libby Madarasz and Ginny Kerslake have strapped on high boots and visited the wetlands behind Sunoco’s work site many times since the surge of water was detected. A resident noticed the plume Sunday afternoon and the DEP responded to the scene within an hour of being notified. A DEP representative was told by a pipeline builder Sunoco/Energy Transfer representative that the discharge was “normal.” Madarasz visited the drilling site again on Wednesday. She said that she is concerned that aquatic plant life will be coated with clay and silt when the waters recede further. Sunoco/ET had originally intended to dig using horizontal directional drilling. The pipeline right-of-way runs within a few feet of the library. Plans were changed midstream and trench digging was performed, with boring beneath the creek. Sunoco/ET needs to keep their bore pit dry in order to perform construction through this wetland and under the creek. This requires pumping groundwater from drilled wells on the site and discharging it into the environment or hauling it away in 5,000 gallon trucks. Kerslake was critical of the DEP response. “Energy Transfer is failing to comply with the DEP’s permit requirement to prevent sediment from being discharged into waters of the Commonwealth,” Kerslake said. “And instead of enforcing their permit and protecting the environment, the DEP is once again turning a blind eye on this egregious project.”

19 states press Supreme Court on pipeline eminent domain -- Thursday, April 8, 2021 --  States, property rights advocates and local government organizations yesterday urged the Supreme Court to affirm New Jersey's constitutional right to block construction of a natural gas pipeline.

NYC leaders urge feds to kill Williams Pipeline once and for all — Over two dozen New York City leaders have urged the federal government to kill a controversial pipeline project that would run underneath the waters off the Rockaway Peninsula. The proposed Williams Northeast Supply Enhance Pipeline, or Williams Pipeline, would deliver fracked gas from Pennsylvania to New York city via a tube underneath New York Harbor. The plan was rejected last year by New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation. In a letter Wednesday, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards and State Sens. Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr., Jessica Ramos and James Sanders called on Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Richard Glick to also reject the Williams Pipeline once and for all. The pipeline would move the city and state further from achieving its climate goals, they said.“We take climate change seriously, as we have already lost loved ones here in New York City to climate-fueled superstorms and heat waves that caused death, illness, debt, and scarcity,” the leaders wrote. “For our constituents and for the future generations who will live with the consequences of allowing the Williams Pipeline to be built, we urge you to deny Williams’ request.”The letter cites Glick’s own condemnation of the initial FERC approval of the project in 2019, when he said that declaring the pipeline safe “fails to give climate change the serious consideration it deserves and that the law demands.”On March 19, Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company requested a two year extension to kickstart the project. The 17.4-mile-long, 26-inch diameter connection would transport fracked gas under the Atlantic Ocean off the shores of Rockaway Beach.The letter cites the emissions impact of the gas being brought into the city once burned, new FERC recommendations that take into account the effects of transporting the gas  — like methane leaks — and climate justice for the city’s most vulnerable communities.“We will not allow the racist legacy of environmental and climate injustice to continue by building infrastructure that will increase the amount of polluting fracked gas in our city,” the letter continues The lawmakers, including local assembly members and distinct leaders, also acknowledged significant public opposition to the pipeline, underscored by the more than 16,000 critical comments submitted during the DEC review period.

Sen. Markey reintroduces legislation to block compressors for natural gas exports— In an effort to prevent projects like the compressor station on the banks of the Fore River, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey said he has refiled legislation that would block construction of any compressor station that would aid energy companies in exporting natural gas overseas. "None of this natural gas is needed for Massachusetts. It's just being shipped through like a straw for the benefit of the natural gas companies," Markey, D-MA, said Friday. "I'll be working to prevent the construction and operation of facilities like the Weymouth compressor, which ask communities to bear all of the risks." Markey visited the compressor station site Friday morning along with state and local officials, including Democratic State Reps. James Murphy of Weymouth and Joan Meschino of Hull; and State Sens. Patrick O'Connor, R-Weymouth, John Keenan, D-Quincy, and Walter Timilty, D-Milton. Members of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station also turned out to show their opposition to the compressor, which is now fully constructed. "It is time we end this dangerous project once and for all," Markey told the crowd. "Let us keep up this fight. We're going to take it to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and we're not going to stop until we win." The compressor station is part of Enbridge’s Atlantic Bridge project, which expands the company’s natural gas pipelines from New Jersey into Canada. Since the station was proposed in 2015, residents have argued it presents serious health and safety risks. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently voted to take a look at several issues associated with the compressor station, including whether the station’s expected air emissions and public safety impacts should prompt commissioners to reexamine the project. Alice Arena, leader of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, said the citizens group recently celebrated the sixth anniversary of its opposition to the project. She said all members of the local delegation have worked alongside residents to fight against the compressor station. "Although we see here that it's constructed, it's not operating," Arena said. "Enbridge will tell you it's operation, but Enbridge has a little problem with truthiness. We have been watching this vigilantly and we know that they have not been performing like they should.

Massachusetts politicians push to shutter Weymouth gas compressor station after third unplanned release of gas - Ahead of a deadline Monday evening, gas companies and industry groups rushed to tell federal regulators that a controversial Weymouth gas compressor station should be allowed to continue operating despite its rocky history, arguing the site was safe and critical to the country’s energy infrastructure.Then, around 9:37 a.m. Tuesday morning, the site spewed at least 10,000 standard cubic feet of natural gas into the surrounding neighborhood, its third unplanned release in just eight months. That incident comes at a crucial moment for the compressor station as federal regulators take a rare second look at its safety protocols and community impact. And it triggered a new wave of condemnations from top Massachusetts politicians, who say the only appropriate course of action is to shutter the site immediately.

Huge Drop for Natural Gas Futures on ‘Very Weak’ Power Burns -- Natural gas futures took a dramatic fall after the Easter holiday weekend as weather forecasts shifted much warmer for the next couple of weeks. With April on pace to be warmer than normal, the May Nymex gas futures contract plunged 12.8 cents Monday to settle at $2.511/MMBtu. June fell 11.5 cents to $2.582. markets Spot gas prices also posted sharp losses across the country amid very light demand. NGI’s Spot Gas National Avg. dropped 16.0 cents to $2.185. Monday’s steep price drops along the Nymex futures curve were a sharp deviation from last week’s price action. Prices during the short trading week leading up to Easter shifted less than a nickel each day. Over the three-day weekend, though, the European and American weather models both posted large degree day losses in Weeks 1 and 2 that led to projected demand contracting by 18 Bcf, according to EBW Analytics Group. The May Nymex futures contract flirted with the $2.50 level, and even sank below it, throughout much of Monday’s session. The prompt month ultimately settled near the low end of the roughly 13.0-cent range. There is support for a cooler trough to move into the eastern United States toward the middle of the month, according to Bespoke Weather Services. However, this is only expected to bring demand back up toward near-normal levels at this time, keeping April on pace to be yet another warmer-than-normal month “rather easily.

Mid-April Cold Snap Drives Gains for Natural Gas Futures; Western Cash Prices Rally - Natural gas futures managed to hold onto early gains midweek despite little change in fundamentals. The May Nymex gas futures contract traded in a nearly 10-cent band before settling Wednesday at $2.520, up 6.4 cents day/day. June picked up 6.1 cents to reach $2.597. Spot gas prices were mixed on Wednesday as the low price environment likely started to incentivize power burns. NGI’s Spot Gas National Avg. climbed 4.0 cents to $2.280. After some stubborn technical resistance came into play on Tuesday, the prompt month climbed early on Wednesday after the Global Forecast System model gained 10 heating degree days on further colder trends for April 14-20, putting it in better agreement with the European data, according to NatGasWeather. Both models see more impressive cold shots sweeping across the eastern two-thirds of the country for stronger demand for that period. “Of course, the pattern the next seven days before then is about as bearish as it gets, with national demand exceptionally light for this time of the year due to very limited coverage of subfreezing air,” the forecaster said. How long the projected cooler-than-normal pattern seen for April 14-20 lasts is now of great interest, according to NatGasWeather. The GFS and the European model see cool eastern United States air slowly fading April 21-24, although changes are likely given the long lead time. Bespoke Weather Services said it views the cooling as likely “limited” in terms of duration. The pattern, according to the forecaster, may tilt back to the warmer-than-normal side toward the end of the month. Bespoke said there were only minor changes in production and liquefied natural gas (LNG) volumes early Wednesday, and power burns remained marginally stronger on a weather-adjusted level than they had been previously. However, burns were still weak, overall. The forecaster said it was “neutral” as far as price action in the near term, given some “marginal improvement” in the data over the last couple of days. However, cash prices have been “very weak” and that would need to change to stimulate any sustainable move higher.

US natural gas storage fields post another strong shoulder season build | S&P Global Platts — Above-average injections into US gas storage fields during shoulder season suggest stocks might fill early this year, presenting a possibly bearish market landscape this summer. Storage inventories increased 20 Bcf to 1.784 Tcf for the week ended April 2, the US Energy Information Administration reported April 8. The build was less than the 27 Bcf injection expected by an S&P Global Platts' survey of analysts. It was also less than the 30 Bcf addition reported during the same week last year, but above the five-year average injection of 8 Bcf, according to EIA data. Lower weather-driven demand pushed US residential-commercial consumption down almost 2 Bcf/d for the week ended April 2, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. Despite reduced space heating, power loads increased week over week as modest cooling degree days drove some demand in the Southeast. Higher total loads interacted with stronger renewable generation, though, pushing the call on thermal generation lower. Yet, despite the smaller call on thermal generation, US gas-fired generation gained nearly 800 MMcf/d, with gas' share of thermal generation growing by about 2% to average roughly 63.5%. Switching to supply, US production gained a modest 200 MMcf/d, while a softer call on Canadian inflows drove net imports lower by roughly 100 MMcf/d. Storage volumes now stand 235 Bcf, or 11.6%, less than the year-ago level of 2.019 Tcf and only 24 Bcf, or 1.3%, less than the five-year average of 1.808 Tcf. Natural gas prices saw some selling pressure with the May Henry Hub NYMEX contract falling to as low as $2.46/MMBtu on April 7. The weakness in price appears to be driven by a lack of bullish catalysts, as the market is entering a period in which loads are seasonally quite weak and demand is soft. As such, it appears NYMEX futures are largely being shaped by cash prices with Henry Hub spot prices clearing below $2.40/MMBtu on April 8. The NYMEX Henry Hub May contract was at $2.51/MMBtu in trading following the release of the weekly storage report on April 8. Platts Analytics' supply and demand model currently forecasts a 64 Bcf injection for the week ending April 9, which would flip the deficit to the five-year average to a surplus. The inventory gains were concentrated in the South Central and Midwest regions, which each accounted for a little more than a third of the total volume change week over week. Mild shoulder season weather means temperatures are rising enough to cut residential and commercial demand, but not climbing high enough to provide offsetting gains to power burn.

Universities Could Ban Natural Gas Under Bill, But Not Indiana Cities -- House Bill 1191 would now allow universities to put policies in place to make their buildings greener, but cities still wouldn’t be able to do so. The bill as a whole prevents cities from banning natural gas and less energy efficient materials when constructing a new home or a building. Climate activists and some other groups were glad similar language that applied to colleges and universities was cut out of the bill, but many groups are still opposed.The proposal was authored by home builder and lawmaker Rep. Jim Pressel (R-Rolling Prairie). He said going green drives up the cost of home prices and that home buyers should have a choice in what kind of energy they use.“My customers want gas — they do. They want gas-fired barbecues, they want gas lights, they want that choice," he said.Cities in states like California, Ohio, and Massachusetts have passed ordinances banning natural gas in new buildings because of climate concerns. Joe Yount with the American Institute of Architects in Indiana. He said not allowing cities like Indianapolis to require energy efficiency could make it more difficult to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reach climate goals.

 Memphis groups against Byhalia pipeline file lawsuit to stop permit -- With national attention on the proposed Byhalia pipeline mounting, a trio of Memphis environmental advocacy groups and the Southern Environmental Law Center filed a lawsuit Thursday against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which issued a federal permit in February allowing for the 49-mile crude oil pipeline construction. Because the type of “general" permit issued the Byhalia pipeline does not require the same environmental analysis as those the Corps greenlights on an individual, case-by-case basis, the suit alleges the Corps did not fulfill its requirements under the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act to assess potential impacts to the Memphis drinking water supply and the 130 streams and wetlands crossed by the proposed route through southwest Memphis and northern Mississippi. The Corps also falls "woefully short" of meeting public input requirements in its use of the permit for crude oil pipeline projects, according to the consortium of Memphis non-profits represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, including the Sierra Club, Protect Our Aquifer and the newly incorporated Memphis Community Against Pollution, whose members launched the grassroots group Memphis Community Against the Pipeline in October. Kenneth Williams, of the Corps' Public Affairs Office in Memphis, said in an email that while the agency cannot comment on ongoing litigation, the Memphis District has been transparent about its approval of the permit in responding to dozens of inquiries from citizens, media and public officials thus far. Responding in early February to questions from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, the Corps acknowledged public interest concerns related to the risk of contamination in a protected area where Memphis Light, Gas and Water wellheads are connected below ground to the city's drinking water supply — and through which the pipeline is routed. "The nationwide permit program was designed to enable quick determinations of activities with minimal environmental impacts," District Commander and Col. Zachary Miller wrote Cohen, citing the Corps' interpretation of a "public water supply intake" as limited to surface water. The Corps lacks jurisdiction to address potential discharges to groundwater; "indirect emissions" of air pollution resulting from the refining of crude oil transported by pipeline; and spills or leaks from oil and gas pipelines, Miller states in the letter which also invokes the monitoring and mitigation measures the pipeline company has said will be in place.

US LNG feedgas demand surges as export capacity additions continue. --If there’s one word that sums up the U.S. LNG export market over the past year, it’s resilience. After taking a pummeling last year, feedgas demand and exports have roared back, reaching new heights in recent weeks, and are headed still higher in the coming months as new liquefaction capacity is commissioned at a faster pace than expected. Train 3 at Cheniere Energy’s Corpus Christi LNG facility came online on March 26, increasing U.S. LNG export capacity to 75 MMtpa (~9.9 Bcf/d), which equates to a total feedgas demand of nearly 11 Bcf/d. Two more export projects — 18 modular trains at Venture Global’s new Calcasieu Pass facility and the sixth train at Cheniere’s existing Sabine Pass — are on track to ship their first commissioning cargoes later this year, ahead of their originally proposed construction schedules, and will be fully operational in 2022. This is quite a different picture from last year, when nothing but uncertainty loomed on the horizon in a COVID-hit world and progress for just about every project was in jeopardy. Today, we start a short series providing an update on the status of operational and under-construction export capacity and where LNG feedgas demand is headed this year. As we discussed recently in Wild Thing, feedgas demand and U.S. LNG production over the past year faced unprecedented volatility, first because of economically driven cargo cancellations due to COVID-19 and the subsequent crash in prices globally (see Break It to Me Gently, Undone and LNG Interruption for more). Then, later last year, just as global demand and prices were rising again, a record-setting hurricane season wreaked havoc on the operations of Gulf Coast LNG terminals, particularly in Louisiana, hampering exports (see You Spin Me Round). Feedgas consumption recovered by winter, but the Gulf Coast terminals continued to see intermittent disruptions, even as global prices and demand remained strong. Earlier this year, we saw a slowdown in exports, albeit relatively modest, stemming from constraints on passage through the Panama Canal, which in turn led to voyage delays and a vessel shortage. Then came Winter Storm Uri, which created a severe gas shortage in Texas and curtailed production as export facilities sent gas back into the market to help meet domestic demand (see Feed Me). That was followed by a period of foggy conditions along the Gulf Coast that intermittently interrupted marine traffic. However, as the weather turned warmer, most facilities returned to full operating capacity and feedgas demand rebounded. Feedgas consumption averaged about 10.9 Bcf/d in the second half of March (orange line in Figure 1) after peaking above 11 Bcf/d on multiple days and breaking the single-day record three times as Corpus Christi Train 3 reached the final days of its commissioning and entered service on March 26. In the first few days of April, feedgas volumes have continued to top 11 Bcf/d.

Venture Global’s Calcasieu Pass LNG Feed Gas Pipeline Cleared for Service -  FERC has authorized U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) developer Venture Global LNG Inc. to place into service a pipeline to deliver feed gas to the company’s Calcasieu Pass export facility, currently under construction in Louisiana.In a letter filed Wednesday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission cleared Venture Global’s TransCameron pipeline to enter service based on the company’s recent construction reports and photo documentation.“We find that TransCameron has adequately stabilized the construction workspaces and that restoration is proceeding satisfactorily,” Rich McGuire, director of FERC’s Gas – Environment and Engineering division, wrote in the letter.In its request submitted last month, Venture Global said the pipeline was mechanically complete and would be ready to flow gas by Wednesday.The 24-mile, 42-inch-diameter TransCameron pipeline extends eastward from the Calcasieu Pass LNG facility to Grand Chenier, LA. There, it interconnects with TC Energy Corp.’s ANR Pipeline, Enbridge Inc.’s Texas Eastern Transmission Co. system, aka Tetco, and EnLink Midstream LLC’s Bridgeline system. Venture Global says it has contracted “long-term, firm, uninterruptible transport capacity” on each of the pipelines, connecting the TransCameron Pipeline to more than 2 Bcf/d of natural gas supply.

Father of Teen Killed in Oil Tank Explosion Pushing for New Louisiana Safety Measures - Maxwell Smith is on a mission to make sure no one loses a child the way he lost his 14-year-old daughter, Zalee Gail Day-Smith. Zalee, a vivacious high school freshman who loved singing, died on February 28 when oil tanks exploded near her home in Beauregard, Louisiana. “Her body was thrown 200 feet in the air,” Smith told me when I went to visit the family a month after the accident. Zalee’s body was found across the street from the site of the blast in the Bear Field oil field, just north of Lake Charles. It was located alongside one of the oil tanks that had been blown off its foundation. Smith says that his daughter’s body was mutilated to such a degree that the family was never allowed to see it. Zalee lived with her mother, sister, and twin brother about a hundred feet from the oil field site owned by Urban Oil and Gas LLC, a Texas-based company that holds numerous oil and gas leases in Louisiana and several western states.  “The landlord told us it was ok to play on the site,” Mattisun Miner, one of Zalee’s older sisters told me. Douglas Kent Carroll, Zalee’s older brother, also said that the landlord made it clear that the tanks next door to the home were nothing to worry about. The landlord did not respond to a request for comment. The rural area is littered with oil field sites that range in activity from actively producing wells to permanently decommissioned ones, and everything in between. So, when Carroll’s family members moved into a house next to one of these sites, it didn’t raise his concern at the time. He now knows better. At the Urban Oil and Gas site that exploded is an injection well that was used to dispose of wastewater from oil production and a tank battery — a set of storage and processing tanks — in this case, two of which stored oil — that were linked to two shut-in oil wells nearby, according to Patrick Courreges, communications director for the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (LDNR). In 2012, one of the wells was shut-in, meaning the operator purposely turned a valve to stop the well from producing, a process which can be reversed to later restart production. The other well was shut-in in February last year, not long before Zalee’s family moved in.  Her family was under the impression that this oil field site had been permanently decommissioned. But Urban Oil and Gas had only paused production and left oil in the storage tanks on the property next to Zalee’s home. The site had no apparent activity while the family lived next to it — they were evicted shortly after the explosion — and there was no sign describing its current status.

US gasoline inventories rise 4.04 million barrels as imports jump: EIA - US gasoline inventories climbed 4.04 million barrels to 234.59 million barrels last week, as imports jumped and refinery runs edged higher, US Energy Information Administration data showed April 7. Gasoline imports climbed 678,000 b/d to 1.3 million b/d, with the bulk of that increase – 635,000 b/d – heading to the US Atlantic Coast, home of the New York delivery point for NYMEX RBOB futures. NYMEX RBOB futures fell following the EIA data, with the front-month crack spread against ICE Brent crude ending at around $18.82/b April 7, down from $19.70/b April 6. Still, that's up from minus $1.85/b the same time last year, when RBOB crack spreads were sent into negative territory by the global coronavirus lockdowns. US gasoline crack spreads and refining margins have risen this year as the US has started to open up, driven by a steady increase in coronavirus vaccinations. Apple Mobility data shows US driving activity climbed 2.6% last week to the highest since the week ended Sept. 11, 2020. Driving activity was up more than 156% from year-ago levels. In contrast, lockdowns are continuing in Europe due to the slower pace of vaccinations, dampening transportation fuel demand. Senior market analyst Edward Moya of OANDA noted that news of a "possible" link to rare cases of blood clots from the AstraZeneca vaccine already has resulted in the United Kingdom halting that specific vaccine's distribution to those under age 30. "Europe's COVID vaccine rollout has been very disappointing and today's announcement that the UK will offer alternatives to people under 30 could lead to further vaccine hesitancy," Moya said. The European lockdowns have helped support gasoline arbitrage economics to the USAC. The arbitrage opened wide in February after several Texas refineries were brought down by unusually frigid temperatures. The USAC depends on gasoline from the US Gulf Coast, via the Colonial Pipeline, and from waterborne imports, primarily from Europe. USGC refiners were operating at 83.1% of capacity the week ended April 2, according to the EIA. That was unchanged on the week, but up from just 40.9% at the height of the Texas outages the week ended Feb. 26. Increased refinery runs helped boost USGC gasoline stocks last week by 838,000 barrels to 80.44 million barrels, putting stocks roughly on par with the five-year average, the EIA data showed.

Can a pipeline company defy a governor’s orders? Gretchen Whitmer is about to find out. As governor, Gretchen Whitmer vowed to provide clean and affordable drinking water for the Great Lakes state of Michigan. Last year, she implemented a statewide moratorium on water shutoffs to provide relief during the COVID-19 crisis, allocated $500 million dollars for improving water infrastructure, and in November stood by a campaign promise when she ordered Enbridge Energy to shut down its Line 5 pipeline, which carries crude oil and natural gas liquids under the Great Lakes from western Canada to Michigan and on to eastern Canada. Whitmer’s order gave Enbridge until May 12 to shut down Line 5. But the company has so far refused to comply, leading to a showdown between the biggest mover of oil in the United States, Enbridge, and one of the country’s emerging political leaders on climate, over land in her own state.     A review by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources last year found that Enbridge has repeatedly violated requirementslaid out in the 1953 easement that allowed it to build the pipeline, with infractions varying from not having the required support on the lake bed to inadequate corrosion control. Whitmer said in apress release that Enbridge “failed for decades to meet these obligations under the easement, and these failures persist and cannot be cured.”  Her order to shut down the pipeline follows years of concern from researchers, activists, and policymakers that Line 5 could seriously threaten Great Lakes fisheries and drinking water. The National Wildlife Federation found that the pipeline has spilledover 1 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids in an estimated 30 spills to date. “Every day that pipeline lays on the lakebed, we’re a day closer to a catastrophe,” said David Holtz, an activist and coordinator for Oil and Water Don’t Mix, a coalition of Michigan organizations fighting to shut down Line 5 and support a clean energy transition.  There are also climate change concerns. To keep Line 5 operating, Enbridge has announced plans to build a protective tunnel over the part of the pipeline that crosses under the Great Lakes at the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Huron and Lake Michigan meet. One of several permits for the tunnel construction was granted in late January this year. If it is completed, Enbridge would be allowed to use the pipeline for the next 99 years. But environmentalists and scientists argue that a long-term infrastructure plan to keep distributing and using fossil fuels runs counter to Whitmer’s 2050 carbon-neutrality goal and could derail U.S. climate change targets more broadly. Each day, the pipeline transports up to 540,000 barrels of fossil fuel.

Nessel, Whitmer file argument to keep Line 5 shutdown suit in state court ⋆ With just 36 days left until Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order for Canadian oil company Enbridge to shut down its controversial Line 5 pipeline goes into effect, the question of which court will preside over the state’s lawsuit to enforce the order is seeing some movement. Filed on March 16, the state’s 30-page motion to remand State of Michigan v Enbridge back to the 30th Circuit Court argues that the case should not be sent to federal court because there is no legal basis or jurisdiction for it to belong there. “The State pleads claims exclusively under state law, alleging that it properly revoked and terminated Enbridge’s Easement in the Straits of Mackinac for violations of both the public trust doctrine and the conditions and terms of the Easement,” the motion reads. Enbridge’s response to the state’s motion is due by April 28. Whitmer’s notice of revocation and termination will take effect on May 12, even if the court cases have not been concluded by then — but since Enbridge has made it clear that it does not intend to comply voluntarily, a court order will be needed to effectively enforce the shutdown. In November, Whitmer had directed Enbridge to shut down the existing dual pipeline by May 12 due to “repeated and incurable violations” of the company’s 1953 easement with the state. Enbridge’s core argument to remand the state’s case into federal court rests on its premise that the federal government, not the state, has the sole ability to decide whether a Line 5 shutdown is warranted. The company alleges that Whitmer’s order of revocation and termination “interferes with comprehensive federal regulation of pipeline safety,” burdens interstate and foreign commerce and more. The state, for its part — represented by Attorney General Dana Nessel — argues that there are much stronger arguments for keeping the case in state court. “The Complaint is founded exclusively on state law and addresses the legal validity of and Enbridge’s compliance with the 1953 Easement Agreement,” the motion reads, before outlining the ways in which the state believes its notice of revocation and termination is valid.Nessel then outlines four main arguments:

  • Enbridge has the burden of establishing federal court jurisdiction, which the state argues it cannot.
  • The state’s case does not necessarily arise under federal law, as no federal issues are raised by the state’s claims; furthermore, remanding the case to federal court would set a harmful precedent by radically expanding the scope of federal jurisdiction.
  • Enbridge cannot “shoehorn” the case into federal court based on its argument for “federal officer jurisdiction,” as its relationship with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) does not fulfill the requirements necessary to make this argument.
  • Enbridge’s invocation of “admiralty jurisdiction” — jurisdiction that usually arises from an accident in navigable waters and involves some aspect of maritime commerce — is not applicable, as the case at hand concerns contractual state agreements that are not maritime in nature.

Enbridge to Biden: Lake Michigan Pipeline Tunnel Fits U.S. Plans - - Enbridge Inc. wants to show the Joe Biden administration that the tunnel the Canadian company is building for its oil pipeline under Lake Michigan is exactly what the U.S. president’s plan for better infrastructure is all about.The tunnel project for the company’s Line 5, opposed by Michigan Governor and Biden ally Gretchen Whitmer, is the kind of upgrade that will make a crucial piece of infrastructure safer, Enbridge Chief Executive Officer Al Monaco said in an interview. The Calgary-based pipeline giant is engaging with the Biden administration to get that message across, he said.“Under the theme of ‘Build Back Better’ that the president has been talking about, it fits exactly,” Al Monaco said. “That’s what we are doing: We are modernizing an existing piece of infrastructure with a tunnel that reduces the risk to as close to zero as humanly possible, and we are doing it on our dime.”Enbridge is fighting Whitmer’s move last November to revoke an easement that permitted the pipeline to cross the lake bed, a decision that could force the system to shutdown by May. Meanwhile, Enbridge is pushing ahead with the tunnel project approved by Whitmer’s predecessor.Line 5 crosses the Straits of Mackinac between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas and supplies light oil and fuel to refineries and consumers in the U.S. Midwest and Canada.While the new U.S. president is aggressively seeking to promote spending on infrastructure, he has also canceled a key permit for the Keystone XL pipeline that would have carried Canadian oil sands crude from Alberta into the U.S.Al Monaco argues that blocking the existing Line 5 would trigger a crisis given its importance to Midwest refineries. The tunnel addresses concerns about potential oil spills into the water posed by ship anchors, for instance. A court-ordered mediation is scheduled to start on April 16.“It doesn’t make much sense to create a crisis when we have a solution there in the tunnel,” he said. “Protecting the Great Lakes is exactly what we’re doing.” Another project that Monaco says fits well with Biden’s goals is its Line 3. Enbridge is currently building a replacement to the aging cross-border pipeline with a new one that can pump increased volumes of Canadian crude into the U.S. Construction of the project in the U.S. only began in December after years of regulatory and legal delays. Protesters, including some indigenous groups, have regularly tried to disrupt construction, but Enbridge plans to finish the line on schedule, by year end. Horizontal directional drilling planned for the summer and eight pump stations are “on track,” he said. Canadian oil sands producers have struggled for years with a shortage of export pipelines, a situation that’s depressed prices for local crude oil. Projects to build new pipelines have faced environmental opposition and delays. But new pipelines such as the Line 3 replacement are being built, and large new project’s aren’t going to be needed, Monaco said.

One researcher’s quest to quantify the environmental cost of abandoned oil wells – Grist - Amy Townsend-Small has been chasing methane her entire professional life. The quest has taken her from Southern California freeways to sewage plants to animal feedlots. Sniffing out the potent greenhouse gas, which traps 86 times as much heat as carbon dioxide after it’s emitted into the atmosphere, has required her to breathalyze cows and take chemical measurements at large manure lagoons. When fracking took off around 2010, Townsend-Small shifted her focus to a new and growing problem: methane leaks from oil and gas activity.  The thousands of wells drilled, the millions of miles of pipelinethat transported natural gas, and the refineries that processed it all leaked methane. Natural gas plants emit about half as much carbon dioxide as coal plants, but without knowing how much methane leaks when extracting and moving natural gas, the true climate effects cannot be assessed.   Townsend-Small began trying to quantify just how much methane was leaking from wells and pipelines. She investigated whether methane from fracking sites may have tainted groundwater in rural Ohio and collected data on pipeline and compressor station leaks in Colorado. The work of Townsend-Small and other environmental scientists tracking greenhouse gases culminated in a 2018 study finding that 2.3 percent of the natural gas extracted in the country either leaked or was directly released into the air — the equivalent of the carbon dioxide emitted by all coal plants operating at the time.  In 2016, Townsend-Small found that 40 percent of unplugged wells she tested in Colorado, Wyoming, Ohio, and Utah were emitting methane. On average, each unplugged well was leaking about 10 grams of methane each hour, contributing the annual carbon equivalent of burning more than 2,400 pounds of coal each year. The EPA used her research to estimate that the nation’s approximately 3.1 million abandoned wells were spewing greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to burning more than 16 million barrels of oil. Such attempts to quantify methane emissions nationally come with fairly large margins of error, primarily because research on this front is scarce and what does exist is based on surveys in the Appalachian Basin. No two geological formations are the same, so without more detailed data from major oil- and gas-producing states, it’s impossible to say precisely the damage that abandoned wells may be doing to the planet. That’s why Townsend-Small recently set out to fill a Texas-sized hole in the research: The Lone Star State is the largest producer of oil and gas in the country and has thousands of abandoned wells, but its methane emissions have never been systematically measured.

The Permian Basin is ground zero to billions of dollars in zombie oil wells  - As oil and gas companies weathered volatile oil prices last year, many halted production. More than 1 00,000 oil and gas wellsin Texas and New Mexico are idle.Of these, there areabout 7,000 “orphaned” wells that the states are now responsible for cleaning up.But statistical modeling by Grist and The Texas Observer suggestsanother 13,000 wells are likely to be abandoned in the coming years. A conservative estimate of the cleanup cost? Almost $1 billion. And that doesn’t consider the environmental fallout.A decade ago, the U.S. oil industry experienced a brief renaissance with the advent of hydraulic fracturing, a new technology that allowed producers to unlock vast reserves of oil once thought to be unreachable. However, the COVID-19 pandemic reduced demand for oil at a time when there was already an oversupply of the fuel, disrupting the industry to a degree unseen in decades. Small, independent drilling companies have folded under extreme financial pressure. Even the big players, such as Exxon and Phillips 66, have slashed expenses. Just like in the ’80s, a massive wave of layoffs and bankruptcies has waylaid the industry. As of December 2020, 46 North American oil and gas production companies had filed for bankruptcy. The mighty Chesapeake Energy, a publicly traded company with $8.5 billion in annual revenue and drilling operations across the country, was the biggest one to fall. Experts predict the trend will continue.When an operator goes out of business, it’s the folks who live in the oil patch who are left with whatever mess the companies leave behind. Through the years, the Texas and New Mexico legislatures have made occasional attempts to address the growing problem of abandoned wells. The most substantial of these was in 1964 when Texas required companies to put bond money upfront to cover potential plugging costs. But even that didn’t stop the states’ ballooning inventory of orphaned wells.Weak bonding measures, lax enforcement of environmental and permitting rules, and legal loopholes have deepened the crisis. The state agencies responsible for overseeing the industry are severely understaffed, underfunded, and reluctant to hold operators accountable for letting wells sit idle. A review of the past 30 years of state records by Grist and the Texas Observer found that the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division inspects each oil and gas well only once about every two years. After a state Supreme Court ruling limiting the agency’s authority, it did not collect any fines for thousands of violations between 2011 and 2015. In Texas, the Railroad Commission classified just 0.04 percent of violations between 2015 and 2020 as “major” — a designation that comes with fines of up to $10,000 per day — even though operators were routinely leaving wells unplugged and spilling or leaking toxic oil and gas chemicals.

How Southwestern regulators failed to police the oil and gas industry - The fracking boom in the Permian Basin — which straddles West Texas and southeastern New Mexico — largely coincided with Republican control of much of New Mexico’s state government. Many of those elected to office in the early years of the shale rush promptly began dismantling barriers to extracting the most oil and gas at the cheapest price: Soon after winning the governorship in 2010, Republican Susana Martinez shuffled key employees in the environment department into positions where they had little expertise. During her eight-year tenure, the state legislature slashed the budget for the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division, or OCD, which oversees the oil and gas industry, by 25 percent. By 2018, half of all inspection and compliance positions were vacant.“Their budget was gutted,” said Stephanie Garcia Richard, a Democrat and the current land commissioner in charge of overseeing drilling on state lands. “They were casting about every which way [for money]. They were a regulatory body that had no teeth and had no funding.”Martinez’s Democratic successor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, has since made attempts to restore regulatory funding. Nevertheless, at present the two OCD districts overseeing a large portion of the Permian Basin have just seven inspectors to cover more than 50,000 square miles — an area larger than the size of PennsylvaniaOil and gas well inspections ensure that operators are playing by the rules: checking that wells aren’t leaking underground, that there haven’t been spills, and that operators have appropriate signage around well sites. But a review of more than three decades of state records by Grist and the Texas Observer shows just how rare such inspections have become. Since 1988, OCD has inspected each oil and gas well about every two years on average. And inspections are becoming even more infrequent: While the agency averaged about 52,000 inspections each year during the Martinez administration, only about 30,000 were done in 2019 and 41,000 in 2020.  Across the border in Texas, there are 405,000 more oil and gas wells, but enforcement — which is conducted by the misleadingly-named Railroad Commission — is similarly sparse. An analysis of the Commission’s enforcement data by Grist and the Texas Observer found that the agency conducts about 140,000 inspections a year and issues about 32,000 violations. The vast majority of these violations are for leaving wells unplugged despite years of inactivity, not cleaning up spills and leaks, and for not posting the right signage next to a well. They are all for the most part considered “minor” violations by the state. Of the 178,141 violations issued since 2015, just 73 — 0.04 percent — were considered “major” violations, which carry fines of up to $10,000 per day. Most violators do not face fines. The agency’s data show that less than 10 percent of violations are referred to its legal department for enforcement.New Mexico’s OCD reports both on-site field visits and file reviews as inspections but does not differentiate between the two. It’s unclear exactly how many inspections were conducted in person, but the New Mexico data suggest that a significant number are done from a desk — which could be a problem, since it’s hard to identify an oil leak or see a piece of faulty equipment without inspecting the actual well site. OCD inspectors each conducted around 3,000 inspections on average every year since 2016, which works out to about 11 inspections per day.

U.S. House bill seeks $8 billion for abandoned oil and gas well cleanup - (Reuters) - A U.S House of Representatives Democrat introduced a bill on Thursday authorizing $8 billion to plug and clean up abandoned oil wells nationwide, a measure aimed at creating jobs for oil and gas workers and reducing climate-warming emissions. More than a century of oil and gas drilling has left behind millions of abandoned wells here, many of which are emitting methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. Oil and gas companies are likely to abandon many more wells as demand for clean energy replaces that for fossil fuels. The bill, sponsored by Representative Teresa Leger Fernandez, comes a week after President Joe Biden’s administration unveiled a $2 trillion infrastructure proposal - dubbed the American Jobs Plan - that called for a $16 billion investment to plug orphaned wells and clean up abandoned mines. The Biden initiative is aimed in part at providing work for oil and gas employees likely to be displaced by a move away from fossil fuels because of climate change. Leger Fernandez said in an interview that her bill “does the two things that the American Jobs Plan is looking at, which is both create jobs and address some of the pressing national problems we have.” Her bill would provide $7.25 billion in grants for well cleanups on state and private lands and $700 million for plugging on public and tribal lands. State eligibility for the grants would be tied to various metrics, including the ability to put people to work quickly, a state’s oil and gas job losses, the number of abandoned wells and efforts to tighten plugging regulations, reduce methane emissions and boost spending on cleanups. Leger Fernandez’s home state of New Mexico is a major oil and gas producer. The bill would also raise bonding amounts, the money that drillers must pay to cover cleanup costs if they go bankrupt, for companies with wells on public lands. The U.S. Government Accountability Office has said that existing levels are not sufficient, leaving taxpayers on the hook for cleanups. Bonds for wells on a single lease would rise to $150,000 from $10,000, while bonds for all of a driller’s wells in a state would go to $500,000 from $25,000. Companies would also be required to pay new fees for idle wells on public lands.

Inside the Dirty, Dangerous World of Carbon Flooding  -- Around the world, scientists and advocates call for keeping carbon in the ground as a means of staving off climate change. But in the Southwestern United States — mainly in Colorado and New Mexico — a mainstay of obtaining more oil is facilitated by doing the exact opposite: drilling pure reserves of carbon dioxide out of the ground.After it’s extracted from these natural-source underground fields, the gas then gets piped to the Permian Basin, the nation’s top-producing oil fields of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico. There, oil companies use the CO2 to flood their wells, forcing the last dregs of crude to the surface in a process also known as enhanced oil recovery, or EOR.Carbon flooding is often described as a way of helping recover available oil, providing power while the energy sector transitions away from fossil fuels altogether. Sometimes, oil companies mention it alongside questionable carbon capture technology, suggesting that pulling CO2 from the atmosphere and pumping it underground into oil wells for permanent storage — and to loosen up remaining crude for extraction — would facilitate “carbon neutral” oil production. However, that picture of carbon flooding is a futuristic fallacy. The first barrel of so-called carbon neutral oil was produced only earlier this year by Occidental Petroleum. And it relied on carbon offsets, rather than direct capture of CO2 and injection into wells. The reality is that this little-known process uses mostly CO2 extracted from natural sources where it would’ve otherwise remained safely underground — not risking emission into the atmosphere nor furthering the use of planet-warming fossil fuels.While the industry remains out of view of even many dedicated observers and watchdogs, it has existed for four decades and its scale is massive. Occidental Petroleum — a Houston-based corporation that recently rebranded itself as a“carbon management” enterprise, despite being one of the top greenhouse gas emitters in history — says that it injects 2.6 billion cubic feet of CO2 per day into its Permian fields. The company is the largest leaseholder and one of the top producers in the Permian in both New Mexico and Texas. It drilled 13% of the basin’s production in 2015 and has said it foresees billions more in oil production from future CO2 floods.

US oil, gas rig count jumps 9 to 528, with activity hike in smaller basins: Enverus — The US oil and natural gas rig count jumped nine to 528 in the week ending April 7, rig data provider Enverus said, as drilling activity pulled back slightly in the giant Permian Basin but increased in a handful of smaller basins.  The Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas gained two rigs from the previous week for a total 43. The SCOOP/STACK of Oklahoma (19 rigs), the Bakken Shale (15) in North Dakota and Montana, the DJ Basin (14) in Colorado and the Utica Shale (13), mostly in Ohio, each gained a rig.The Permian, sited in West Texas and New Mexico, lost a rig during the week, leaving 235.Horizontal rigs that typically "move the needle" in terms of US shale production was flat week on week at 420, said Andrew Cooper, quantitative US supply analyst with S&P Global Platts Analytics.Cooper added Permian rigs "appeared to flip-flop from the Midland to the Delaware Basin this week," with some rigs shifting from the Permian's eastern to the western sub-basin.The majority of rigs added in the past week were in basins other than the eight largest shale plays and were for vertical wells that commonly have initial production rates much lower than horizontal wells, Cooper said. Operators in those basins usually are smaller companies. Oil rigs at highest level in a yearThe past week was the first time the oil rig count cracked the 400-mark since mid-April 2020, when upstream operators were shedding rigs after a steep oil price drop in early March as the pandemic hit the market. The nationwide total rig count reached 838 in the first week of March, but plummeted 67% in the following four months before starting to slowly inch back up.So far, the US fleet has regained 249 rigs since the fall from March 2000, less than half the 559 it lost.Investment bank Goldman Sachs expects the total US oil and gas rig count to expand by an incremental 65-85 rigs by year-end 2021, with the "most upside" in the Permian at an incremental 35-45 rigs from the current count.The investment bank also sees five to 10 incremental rigs in the Eagle Ford Shale by year-end 2021, three to five incremental rigs in the DJ-Niobrara, two to three incremental rigs in the Haynesville Shale, and one to two incremental rigs in the SCOOP/STACK.U.S. crude output to decline more than previously forecast in 2021: EIA -- (Reuters) - U.S. crude oil production is expected to fall by 270,000 barrels per day (bpd) in 2021 to 11.04 million bpd, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Tuesday, a steeper decline than its previous forecast for a drop of 160,000 bpd.The agency said it expects U.S. petroleum and other liquid fuel consumption to rise 1.32 million bpd to 19.44 million bpd in 2021, compared with a previous forecast for a rise of 1.41 million bpd.

Occidental CEO Rejects U.S. Carbon Tax in Break With Big Oil -  Occidental Petroleum Corp. has split from some of its larger rivals by rejecting a potential U.S. carbon tax, saying that it prefers the existing system of tax credits designed to encourage oil companies to store carbon dioxide and reduce emissions. The position appears to stand in contrast with that of supermajors like Exxon Mobil Corp. and the American Petroleum Institute industry group, which voted last month to endorse putting a tax or other price on carbon dioxide emissions to replace other greenhouse gas regulations. Independent producers and refiners have long been opposed to such a levy. “A carbon tax would be bad for a lot of the industry, a carbon tax would be bad for the consumers and especially for those consumers who are more disadvantaged from an economic standpoint,” Occidental Chief Executive Officer Vicki Hollub said at a conference hosted by Texas Independent Producers & Royalty Owners Association Tuesday. “A carbon tax is not what we’re pushing at all.” Occidental has attempted to position itself as one of America’s more climate-forward oil producers, making its opposition to a carbon tax more noteworthy. The Houston-based company was the first large U.S. oil producer to announce a goal to reach net- zero carbon emissions by mid-century and has ambitious plans to build in Texas the world’s biggest facility to store carbon captured directly from the atmosphere. Last month, API said its support for a carbon tax hinges on replacing existing regulations on greenhouse gases -- a trade-off seen as key to luring support from Republicans on Capitol Hill. But Occidental’s CEO sees such a measure as punitive for the industry. Instead, Hollub prefers the 45Q tax structure that gives companies credit for capturing carbon and storing it underground. She also praised California for its low-carbon fuel standards, saying they functioned better than Europe’s policy of limiting emissions and trading allowances. 

JPMorgan Secretly Emailed the Trump Administration About Bailing Out the Oil Industry –   - In October, top executives at JPMorgan Chase wrote in an op-ed for Fortune that the “clock is ticking” on the climate crisis and that JPMorgan planned to be part of the solution. The bank, they said, would align its immense financing portfolio to meet the Paris climate goals in the oil and gas, electric power, and automotive sectors.   Environmental watchdogs have had their doubts about JPMorgan’s commitment—not least because the bank at the time had on its board of directors the former ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond, a longtime climate skeptic who led thecorporation when it aggressively fought government action to address climate change. Recently, in a report on fossil fuel financing by the climate group Rainforest Action Network, JPMorgan Chase earned the distinction as the “worst banker of fossil fuels” between 2016 to 2020, financing nearly $317 billion for the fossil fuel industry in that period, including oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and tar-sands extraction in Canada.  For example, the executives proposed a program modeled after the student loan TARP program to give the banking sector an injection of government-backed equity when it was facing steep losses. The bank undercuts its climate promises in important ways that are less visible to the public. The environmental group Friends of the Earth obtained emails from last April between JPMorgan Chase and top Treasury Department officials through a Freedom of Information Request and subsequent lawsuit. The batch of emails show JPMorgan requesting changes to government lending programs meant to help smaller and medium-sized businesses weather the economic fallout of the pandemic. They also capture an unusual snapshot of Wall Street’s interdependence on the future of fossil fuels. In March 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, providing $454 billion to the Federal Reserve to support businesses. The move also gave then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin broad powers to adjust the terms of the lending as he saw fit. Three weeks after the law passed, a top executive at JPMorgan forwarded on an email to then-Treasury deputy secretary Justin Muzinich that outlined two items under the subject line, “MSL industry review and Oil and Gas Banking Commentary.” Part of the email referenced the Main Street Lending Program, called by the shorthand MSLP, targeting small- and medium-sized businesses that were left out of other COVID relief packages. The same email includes a frank discussion of the ways the government could directly support bailouts for the oil and gas sector, and protect banks exposed to heavy losses when oil prices were in free fall. One JPMorgan employee, Travis Machen, the head of Financial Institutions Corporate Client Banking, wrote, “Numerous banks, largely scattered across the South, have meaningful direct exposure to oil and gas (generally ranging from ~3-11% of total loans)” with fewer than 50 banks having “measurable direct exposure to the oil and gas sector.”

Fossil fuel subsidies among targets of Biden's $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan --President Joe Biden has unveiled a $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan that aims to relay the foundations of the US economy while also addressing the climate crisis, although some of the proposals — which include an attack on fossil fuel subsidies — may be difficult to carry into law. Biden presented his plan last week in Pittsburgh, the economic epicentre of the Marcellus and Utica shale plays and heart of the US steel industry. He trumpeted the proposals as a "once-in-a-generation investment" that will lead to "good-paying jobs" while helping to "grow the economy". One of the main thrusts of the plan” is $350 billion in tax credits and federal funding for electric vehicles and associated infrastructure and electric grid modernisation. Billions more would be made available for clean energy generation and storage and for building and retrofitting energy-efficient houses, schools and other public buildings. The “American Jobs Plan” covers generous investment in traditional infrastructure such as roads and bridges, but also includes measures intended to help oil industry workers adapt to the energy transition. Biden’s bill offered immediate up-front investment of $16 billion to put the energy industry to work plugging orphaned oil and gas wells and cleaning up abandoned mines. The Environmental Protection Agency pegs the number of abandoned hard-rock mines in the US at about 500,000, and the number of unplugged inactive wells at about 2 million. These wells can leak methane into the atmosphere, by some estimates emitting as much carbon pollution as 2 million passenger vehicles per year. Biden’s job-creation hopes were supported by a joint paper from Columbia University, which estimates that a significant federal effort to plug about 500,000 orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells could provide as many as 150,000 jobs. Biden’s funding requests include $35 billion for “technology breakthroughs addressing the climate crisis” and $15 billion for “demonstration projects” for climate research and development priorities. His proposal calls for the creation of 10 “pioneer facilities” intended to demonstrate carbon capture retrofits at large-scale cement and chemical production facilities. The White House said the administration intends to capitalise on existing legislation and tax programmes to make carbon capture more attractive to industry. The White House plans to pay for the proposals by raising corporate taxes to 28% from 21% and eliminating tax breaks for fossil fuels. Although Biden did not flesh out the details of how the administration would claw back revenue by ending tax relief for oil companies, a 2017 congressional joint committee on taxation said eliminating direct tax breaks for intangible drilling costs would generate $1.59 billion in revenue in that year, or $13 billion over ten years. For percentage depletion — an accounting method that works like value depreciation — the joint committee said ending relief for coal, oil and natural gas would generate $12.9 billion over ten years. 

Senator Bernie Sanders wants fossil fuel execs to testify to the budget committee - CBS NewsSenator Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, has called on three oil and gas executives to testify next Thursday at a hearing on climate change. BP America Chairman and President David C. Lawler, Chevron CEO and Chairman Michael Wirth and ExxonMobil Chair and CEO Darren W. Woods were invited to participate in a hearing titled, "The Cost of Inaction on Climate Change."  In an interview with CBS News, Sanders said that Lawler already declined the request, sent Tuesday. BP America declined to comment to CBS News. Lawler declining "tells me that these guys don't want to answer hard questions," said Sanders. He pointed to past examples of oil and gas companies withholding and distorting information to the public in order to make their production appear less dangerous. Sanders called this "one of the scandals of our lifetime." "These companies are producing a significant percentage of the carbon that we use, which is destroying our planet, and we want to know what they are doing to transform their companies away from fossil fuel," Sanders said.

Black Hills customers face massive rate increases to cover $80 million in cold snap costs --Black Hills Energy customers in Nebraska are facing some significant rate increases to pay for costs the company incurred to keep furnaces and fireplaces running during the extreme cold in February.Black Hills officials told the Nebraska Public Service Commission during a workshop Tuesday that the utility spent $80 million in Nebraska to purchase natural gas Feb. 12-18 —  more than it spends in a typical year. Over the past five years, the company never spent more than $13 million on gas for the entire month of February.By law, Black Hills, which has more than 300,000 customers in Nebraska, the bulk of which are in Lincoln, is allowed to recoup the cost of the natural gas it provides to customers, and in the case of the February cold snap, the costs are astronomical.Douglas Law, Black Hills' associate general counsel in Nebraska, said it paid prices on the spot market as high as $381 per dekatherm of natural gas during the cold snap. That's compared with prices of about $3 per dekatherm earlier in February. A dekatherm is 1 million British thermal units.Robert Amdor, manager of regulatory services for Black Hills, said the company experiences a significant winter cold snap about once every five years, but he said that in his 30 years he has never seen one as significant as the one in February. He said it was "unique" because of how cold it got, how wide of an area experienced the cold and how much it drove up demand for natural gas.In Lincoln, overnight temperatures dipped below zero on 11 consecutive days, capped by a minus 31 reading Feb. 16 that is the coldest temperature ever recorded in Lincoln in February.The freezing temperatures extended to the Gulf Coast and demand caused unprecedented disruptions to the power grid, as well as rocking the natural gas market."This event was far beyond any we've experienced in the past," Amdor said.Overall, across its six-state territory, Black Hills had more than $600 million in additional energy costs during the cold snap. Now the company is working with regulators in those states to lessen the burden on customers by spreading out the bills to cover those additional costs over years.

'No one explained': fracking brings pollution, not wealth, to Navajo land  It’s not clear why the water line broke on a Sunday in February 2019, but by the time someone noticed and stopped the leak, more than 1,400 barrels of fracking slurry mixed with crude oil had drained off the wellsite owned by Enduring Resources and into a snow-filled wash. From there, that slurry – nearly 59,000 gallons – flowed more than a mile downstream toward Chaco Culture national historical park before leaching into the stream bed over the next few days and disappearing from view. The rolling, high-desert landscape where this happened is Navajo Nation off-reservation trust land, in rural Sandoval county, New Mexico. Neighbors are few and far between, and they didn’t notice the spill. The extra truck traffic of the cleanup work blended in with the oil and gas drilling operations along the dirt roads in that part of the county. Then three days after the spill, something ignited and exploded 2,100 feet away on another wellsite owned by Enduring Resources, starting a fire that took local firefighters more than an hour to put out. The two accidents account for just 1% of oil- and gas-related incidents in north-western New Mexico in 2019, according to statistics kept by the New Mexico oil conservation division (OCD). Since those two, there have been another 317 accidents in the region as of 29 March, including oil spills, fires, blowouts and gas releases. There were 3,600 oil and gas spills over the previous decade, both smaller and larger. In both cases in February 2019, the people living closest to the accident sites were among the last to know what happened. Daniel Tso, chairman of the health, education and human services Committee of the Navajo Nation Council, chalks up the lack of communication to a prevailing attitude he sees among outsiders working on Native American lands: “Oh, it’s on Indian land. Don’t worry about it.” Because, historically, few outsiders have. ... North of the highway is land called Dinétah, the center of the Navajo people’s creation story. The Navajo call themselves Diné, which means “the People”. ‘Their greed is gonna kill us’   On the south side of the highway, a hand-painted sign reads “Entering Energy Sacrifice Zone” next to the turnoff to the spider web of muddy, snowy, rutted dirt roads that string together the homes and drilling rigs and wells in the area. It takes a vehicle with four-wheel drive to confidently navigate here. That’s what the oilfield workers drive, if they aren’t driving semis. “It’s really hard to come here,” says Mario Atencio, a legislative district assistant with the Navajo Nation Council.

Haaland on public lands drilling: Taxpayers deserve 'a return on their investment'  Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said Friday that taxpayers deserve “a return on their investment” when asked what changes or different approaches are needed for the country’s oil and gas program. Currently, the Biden administration has paused new leasing on federal lands and waters “pending completion of a comprehensive review and reconsideration of federal oil and gas permitting and leasing practice.” An interim report is expected to be completed this summer. Asked what changes need to be made to fix the oil and gas leasing program, Haaland told reporters that “the American taxpayers deserve to have a return on their investment.” “Because the program hasn’t been reviewed in a long time, they’ll be looking at a lot of things,” she added of federal scientists. “We have an obligation to make sure that this industry does the best it can for the American people.” While on the campaign trail, President Biden called for banning new permits for oil and gas on public land and waters and adjusting fees paid to the government for these activities to account for climate costs. It’s currently unclear whether these changes will be pursued. Asked what Trump administration changes will be on the top of her list to reverse, Haaland said, “I don’t know what to say. There’s so much ... there are a number of those issues that we want to look at.” She mentioned rollbacks to protections for endangered species and migratory birds as among those she’d take on. “I am positive that whatever we feel needs to be changed or reversed, that we’ll do that according to the science,” Haaland added. The Interior Department has already said it would aim to reverse the Trump administration’s changes that removed penalties for industry when they accidentally or incidentally kill migratory birds. Haaland also addressed reports that chief of staff Jennifer Van der Heide had been reassigned after planning a 50-person party that was eventually canceled, saying she’ll be “remaining on my senior staff.” She said the same of Elizabeth Klein, who Biden had planned to nominate as Haaland’s No. 2. The White House later reversed, saying it would not nominate Klein amid reports of disagreement from Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

EPA proposes settlement in Wyoming oil spill -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced a Clean Water Act (CWA) settlement with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company (BNSF) in which the company has agreed to pay $140,000 for alleged Clean Water Act violations associated with a discharge of oil into the North Platte River near Guernsey, Wyoming. EPA alleges that BNSF violated Section 311(b)(3) of the CWA, 33 U.S.C. § 1321(b)(3) with discharges of 5900 gallons of diesel fuel and 800 gallons of lubricating oil into the North Platte River. The discharges occurred on February 4, 2019, in Wendover Canyon, northwest of Guernsey; due to a derailment of three locomotives and five rail cars owned by BNSF. The sources of the diesel and oil were two of the derailed locomotives.  BNSF reported the spill to the National Response Center (NRC) and an EPA On-scene Coordinator was dispatched to the spill site.  BNSF worked with the State of Wyoming and EPA to clean up the spill.  The Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of oil or hazardous substances to waters of the US or their adjoining shorelines in quantities that may be harmful to public health or the environment and is administered by EPA and the Coast Guard. For more on the Clean Water Act’s prohibition against discharges of oil into waters of the U.S. and SPCC regulations, visit:  This proposed Consent Agreement is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final approval by the EPA’s Regional Judicial Officer.  The public comment period began March 24th and ends on April 23rd.  To access and comment on the Consent Agreement , visit:

Phillips 66 pulls out of deferred Liberty Pipeline project — Phillips 66 Partners is officially pulling out of the long-deferred Liberty Pipeline project that was designed to move 350,000 b/d of crude oil from the Rockies and Bakken Shale to the benchmark Cushing, Oklahoma, hub, the company said. The Phillips 66 Partners-led pipeline project was put on indefinite hold more than a year ago when the pandemic crushed global crude oil demand and, since then, the US energy sector has kept tight reins on capital spending. Phillips 66 Partners will record an estimated impairment of between $180 million and $210 million in the first quarter for pulling the plug on the long-dormant project, it said in a statement April 5. The pipeline would have stretched 700 miles from Guernsey, Wyoming, to Cushing, including a connection to a previously proposed Platteville, Colorado, terminal. Phillips 66 Partners' joint-venture partner Bridger Pipeline and its parent, True Companies, did not respond to requests for comment, but Bridger already is exploring pipeline alternatives with new partner Tallgrass Energy through recently launched open seasons. The decision on the Liberty Pipeline is not surprising considering that Phillips 66 in October canceled the planned Red Oak Pipeline from Cushing to the Texas Gulf Coast. Red Oak and Liberty were both proposed and, subsequently, deferred at the same times. So, when Red Oak was killed, it seemed like a similar result for Liberty could follow. Both the Red Oak and Liberty pipelines were originally scheduled to be in service in the first quarter of 2021. While US crude oil production remains depressed since the beginning of the pandemic, there is the potential for more alternate pipeline demand from the Bakken if the main crude oil artery, the Dakota Access Pipeline, is ordered shut. The next federal court hearing on the potential DAPL closure is scheduled for April 9. Bridger and Tallgrass count among those exploring both DAPL and Liberty alternatives, although Bridger technically could still seek a new JV partner for the Liberty project.

Enbridge CEO Confident of Line 3 Completion in Minnesota by Year’s End - Enbridge Inc. still expects to complete and begin service by the end of the year on the contested $2.6 billion leg of the Canadian oil export pipeline now under construction across 240 miles in Minnesota, CEO Al Monaco said Wednesday. “Work is on schedule” for Enbridge Line 3, Monaco said at a Scotiabank CAPP Energy Symposium held by the investment bank with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. “We’re making sure we’re living up to the letter of the permits.” Canadian exporters, led by the country’s top natural gas user, Alberta thermal oilsands production, are forecast to gain 370,000 b/d of capacity with the updated Enbridge system. The pipe construction replaces a 53-year-old system to enable higher operating pressure. Other legs of the total $9 billion, 1,031-mile program are complete in Canada, North Dakota and Wisconsin. Final construction began last fall after the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted permits that ended a six-year regulatory ordeal. Monaco acknowledged that pipeline foes continue to fight Line 3 with court challenges and demonstrations along the Minnesota right-of-way by protestors that include the Water Protectors and native rights champions. The groups hold prayer ceremonies and members have chained themselves to project hardware on the right-of-way. An 18-county police squad called the Northern Lights Task Force, created by the MPUC with Enbridge directed to pay its costs as an approval condition, is tasked with reopening obstructed work sites and removing interfering protesters. Environmental and tribal opponents of the project lost winter fights for stop-work injunctions in the Minnesota Court of Appeals and U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The protesters have vowed to pursue their cases. A verdict is awaited from the Minnesota high court on an appeal that Democrat Gov. Tim Walz directed the state commerce department to file against the MPUC project approval. The complaint said the MPUC erred by using Enbridge delivery contracts as a proxy for U.S. oil demand.

Update On Natural Gas Pipelines Along North Dakota / Minnesota State Line -- After a three-month winter break, work on the $8.5 million Dakota Natural Gas pipeline project in Traill County, N.D., ramped up again in March.The project, which unanimously was approved by the North Dakota Public Service Commission in September, will connect to the Viking Gas Transmission line in western Minnesota and deliver natural gas to commercial and residential customers in the Traill County, in cities of Hillsboro and Mayville and to rural customers along the route. The 63-mile pipeline will be made of steel, except in Hillsboro and Mayville, where it will be high-density plastic. About 750 commercial and residential customers in Traill County will be able to access the pipeline if they choose to do so. Last year, Dakota Natural Gas finished a $4 million pipeline project in Drayton, N.D., where customers included American Crystal Sugar Co. Meanwhile, representatives of Dakota Natural Gas also are studying the possibility of installing natural gas pipelines to the Traill County cities of Portland and Hatton. Nearly all of the pipeline on the North Dakota side of the Traill County project has been laid, and work soon will begin on the Minnesota side.

 Exxon sues Energy Transfer over charges from pipeline dispute --Exxon Mobil Corp’s XTO Energy shale unit filed a breach of contract lawsuit against Energy Transfer LP over disputed payments for the Dakota Access Pipeline, according to a Texas state court filing.  The suit alleges the pipeline operator hit XTO with deficiency charges and revoked other credits after the oil producer shifted some oil to other outlets last August. Exxon took the actions after a U.S. court ordered Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) shut, it said. Exxon asked a state court in Houston last week to award it damages exceeding $1 million, a return of its revoked credits, attorneys fees and other costs.n Energy Transfer and Exxon both declined to comment.

 Fate of Dakota Access pipeline at stake at Friday court hearing (Reuters) - The fate of the Dakota Access pipeline could be decided at a U.S. court hearing Friday, where federal regulators could set in motion a months-long shutdown of the line while the Biden Administration completes an environmental review.The market has been increasingly worried about a possible shutdown as the White House aims to reduce the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels and address concerns of minority communities harmed by carbon emissions. Biden’s administration has restricted oil-and-gas leasing on federal lands and cancelled permits for the proposed Canada-to-U.S. Keystone XL line and a U.S. Virgin Islands refinery expansion.Energy Transfer’s Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) ships up to 570,000 barrels of North Dakota’s crude production to the U.S. Midwest and Gulf Coast. It has been in danger of shutting down since a D.C. court threw out a key permit last summer that allowed it to operate under a water source used by Native American tribes.The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is in charge of issuing permits for pipelines to travel under waterways, is expected to detail plans for DAPL at the hearing before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Bakken crude to be rerouted in every direction if DAPL shuts | S&P Global Platts— Bakken Shale crude oil volumes would ship to the west, east and even up north into Canada and back into the US again as producers and pipeline operators target alternative routes if the Dakota Access Pipeline is shuttered, even temporarily, according to industry sources. A federal court could decide as soon as April 9 whether the Bakken Shale's main crude artery is forced to close, dispersing the volumes from the four-year-old, 570,000 b/d pipeline to other existing pipelines, lightly used crude-by-rail networks, and trucking routes, and widening Bakken crude price discounts. If the Energy Transfer-operated pipeline is ordered shut, energy analysts believe drastic measures will not become necessary so long as the closure is temporary only through the back half of the year. The US Army Corps of Engineers' court-ordered Environmental Impact Statement study could put DAPL back into good legal standing by the end of 2021 or early 2022, although an unprecedented permanent closure would have much bigger long-term impacts. With Bakken crude production and activity already diminished from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and, to a lesser extent, DAPL uncertainty, a temporary closure would keep projected Bakken production growth from occurring, but it would not trigger substantial reductions in volumes, analysts said. "The industry had a lot of time to consider alternate routes," said Colton Bean, midstream analyst for Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. "Is it going to be a disaster scenario? No. It's more of a cap on growth than a big impact on existing production." With the potential loss of DAPL capacity, analyst consensus mostly expects at least 200,000 b/d to move to existing pipeline alternatives, about 200,000 b/d more to crude-by-rail, and up to another 100,000 b/d or so in increased trucking volumes. Some analysts predict crude-by-rail volumes could even grow by at least 300,000 b/d with some modest optimization and expansion work. Some of the big volume gainers would include the True Companies' Butte and Belle Fourche pipelines system from the Bakken to Guernsey, Wyoming; Kinder Morgan's Double H Pipeline to Guernsey; Enbridge's Bakken pipeline system to Illinois and Cushing, Oklahoma; Enbridge's Platte Pipeline from Casper, Wyoming, and Guernsey to Illinois; and Tallgrass Energy's Pony Express Pipeline from Guernsey to Cushing. The major rail networks from the Bakken to the US Gulf Coast's refining and export hubs are BNSF and the joint Canadian Pacific Railway and Kansas City Southern networks, which are merging as part of a $25 billion acquisition. Crestwood Equity Partners' prime COLT rail and trucking hub in the Bakken also stands to benefit. Even pipeline systems from North Dakota to Canada, such as Enbridge Line 26 and Plains All American Bakken North, could be utilized to move crude north and then back into the US through Enbridge's Mainline network and others. "In a normal world, you probably wouldn't be shipping crude north into Canada to bring it back into the US,"

Hoeven believes key priorities for oil and gas can still be won despite Biden administration --Among top priorities for Sen. John Hoeven right now is working behind the scenes to assure uninterrupted operation of the Dakota Access pipeline while a court-ordered Environmental Impact Statement is being prepared. Hoeven told a group of energy industry leaders on Wednesday that he worked with Chairman Mark Fox on getting a tribal consultation on the Dakota Access pipeline, and that he has also been talking with the Corps about the situation, as well as colleagues on the Energy Committee, such as Senator Joe Manchin, the Democratic senator from Virginia. “The key is that we can keep the Corps — they want oil to continue to flow while they do their EIS. And if we can just keep them on track and operating the pipeline, and then completing that EIS within something less than a year now, that’s a huge step,” Hoeven said. Hoeven said the Three Affiliated Tribes have a strong case with the federal government when it comes to Dakota Access, with around 230,000 barrels of oil coming off their reservation and traveling in that pipeline. “(The federal government) has a fiduciary duty to protect trust assets,” Hoeven said. “And they have a trust relationship with the tribe, so I’m hoping that’s helpful.” Hoeven said the Corps and Energy Transfer are taking additional safety precautions for the pipeline to try to accommodate concerns from the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota, as well as tribes in South Dakota. “This is something where we gotta work together, so it doesn’t get to be just looked at in a partisan way,” Hoeven said. “That’s what we want to stay on. The Corps is on track to continue to have it operate and complete the EIS. That’s the key. And that’s why we’re trying to keep i tin this framework, so neither the administration nor the courts, can come in and get it into more of a partisan fight.”

Canada's Enerplus to buy some of Hess' North Dakota assets (Reuters) - Canada's Enerplus Corp said it would buy some assets in North Dakota's Williston Basin from Hess Corp for $312 million, as improved oil price expectations have buoyed mergers and acquisitions in North America. Canada's oil and gas sector had a record start to 2021 in terms of mergers and acquisitions as the energy sector benefits from a rebound in oil prices from the pandemic-led crash last year, and as smaller companies bet on economies of scale. Enerplus said it will buy 78,700 net acres in North Dakota, adjacent to its current core Bakken acreage, with about 6,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd) of working interest production from Hess. The acquisition of largely undeveloped land has expanded Enerplus' drilling inventory in the play by two to three years, Scotiabank analysts wrote in a note, adding its five-year plan to grow production modestly and emphasize free cash flow will likely be well received by investors. The deal, expected to close in May, will add to Enerplus' adjusted free cash flow per share and net asset value in the first year, Enerplus said. The company raised its output guidance for the year to between 111,000 and 115,000 boepd, from 103,500 to 108,500 boepd, due to the acquisition as well as strong operating performance in North Dakota and higher-than-expected production in Pennsylvania's Marcellus region. It also raised its 2021 spending plans to $360 million to $400 million from $335 million to $385 million. For Hess, the sale of the acreage, which it was not planning to drill before 2026, strengthens its cash and liquidity position. Last month, the company agreed to sell stakes in the two Danish oilfields to chemicals and energy group INEOS for $150 million.

M&A in U.S. oil and gas to hit $3.4 billion in Q1 2021 -Mergers and acquisitions in the upstream segment of the U.S. oil and gas industry hit $3.4 billion in the first quarter of the year, Reuters has reported, citing data from Enverus, the energy consultancy.The value of the deals in the first quarter compares with $600 million for the first quarter of 2020 but is less than the $27.8 billion in deals recorded for the fourth quarter of 2020.The five biggest deals last quarter involved a private company, Enverus noted in its report. These included Pioneer Natural Resources’ $6.4-billion acquisition of privately owned DoublePoint and Energy Transfer’s takeover of Enable Midstream Partners for $7.2 billion. Norway’s Equinor also made a deal with a private company last quarter—it sold oil-producing assets in the Bakken play to Grayson Mill Energy, a firm backed by private equity money. In February alone, mergers and acquisitions in the U.S. oil and gas upstream space totaled 35, up 12.9 percent on January but down 25.53 percent on the 12-month average, figures from GlobalData showed.According to a senior Enverus analyst, the uptrend will continue. Andrew Dittmar added that private companies are becoming more willing to buy now that oil companies’ stock prices are rising and they are looking to offload non-core assets.The pandemic that shook the oil and gas industry last year unleashed a wave of consolidation deals as companies grappled with the new reality of demand destruction and a gloomy long-term outlook. This led to some notable deals in the shale patch, including Chevron’s acquisition of Noble Energy and ConocoPhillips’ takeover of Concho Resources, both completed last year. According to analysts, these two deals marked the beginning of the M&A wave that is now expected to accelerate, with exploration and production companies with manageable debts and strong acreage positions tying up to benefit from each other’s strengths to emerge stronger from the current crisis with a higher appeal to disgruntled shareholders.

Railroad agrees to pay $140k for oil spill near Guernsey - The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company has agreed to pay a fine of $140,000 in connection with a 2019 oil spill. The Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday that the organization settled with BNSF to pay for alleged Clean Water Act violations associated with an oil spill into the North Platte River near Guernsey. In February 2019, a derailment of three locomotives and three rail cars owned by BNSF caused a spill of 5,900 gallons of diesel fuel and 800 gallons of lubricating oil into the river in Wendover Canyon, northwest of Guernsey. Two of the derailed locomotives were the sources of the diesel and oil. BNSF reported the spill and an EPA coordinator was dispatched to the site. The railway company worked with the EPA and the state of Wyoming to clean up the spill. The Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of oil or hazardous substances to waters of the United States or its adjoining shorelines in quantities that may be harmful to public health.

Everett manufacturer settles oil spill fines for $222,000— An Everett manufacturer is paying $222,200 to settle fines for two oil spills that polluted a stormwater pond and tainted local wildlife near Narbeck Creek. In July 2018, an Achilles USA employee dropped a moving tote with lubricating oil at the company’s south Everett facility, causing the container to rupture and spill into the building’s stormwater system. From there, the oil was flushed into a retention pond outside, where animals are known to hang out. While cleaning up that spill, responders found that an overflowing collection pit inside the facility was also draining into the retention pond. In all, 340 gallons of oil were dumped into the pond. It took three weeks to clean. Responders caught and cleaned six geese and a snake that were covered in oil. They also saw blue herons that were covered in oil, but couldn’t catch them. The state Department of Ecology initially cited Achilles USA, a plastic film manufacturer, last year for a $327,200 liability, negligence and failing to notify authorities of the incident. The settlement, approved by the Washington Pollution Control Hearings Board, resolves the penalty. The money will go toward environmental restoration managed by public agencies and nonprofits. Achilles also has paid nearly $12,000 to cover the state’s expenses in responding to the spill, and nearly $4,000 for a separate natural resources damage assessment. .

California Is Greenlighting Oil Wells Linked to Groundwater Pollution -- Throughout 2020 and early 2021, California issued more than 300 permits to oil and gas companies for new underground injection wells — an intensive form of oil production and wastewater disposal.  But the actual number of new injection wells is likely higher, owing to the state’s opaque approval process that has drawn scrutiny from auditors and environmentalists. Some of these undercounted wells may be polluting groundwater used for public drinking and agricultural purposes, according to regulatory filings reviewed by Capital & Main. The impact of injection wells on groundwater in California is understudied, regulators say. The California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM), which issues the permits and regulates the industry, is currently the subject of a lawsuit alleging the division issued permits for wells without required environmental reviews. Environmentalists say it’s another contradiction in the state’s energy policy, which seeks to position California as a leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions while at the same time issuing hundreds of permits for injection wells — an energy-intensive and pollution-heavy form of hydrocarbon production — and prolonging society’s dependence on fossil fuels. At least two assessments, one in Ventura County and another in Kern County, showed petroleum-related gases or fluids migrating into important aquifers. Most of the injection well permits issued by CalGEM were for oil production through cyclic steam, waterflooding or steamflooding, all of which involve pushing pressurized water into a layer of diatomite — a fossilized slice of earth containing hardened oil — and allowing the water to loosen the oil until it can be pumped out. Injection wells can be as deep as 5,000 feet and account for 60% of all produced oil in California, where much of the remaining supply is difficult to access by more conventional means. A related kind of well involves injecting water produced while extracting oil back into an underground aquifer to dispose of it. To do this, an aquifer must be exempted from federal protections by the EPA — a trend that accelerated under former President Trump’s administration. Injected water is also used to increase overall oil production in more than 95% of the state’s injection wells. It’s often mixed with toxic chemicals.

Pipeline Spills Over 1,600 Gallons of Oil Near Los Angeles Communities **More than 1,600 gallons of oil have spilled in the Inglewood Oil Field — the largest urban oil field in the country, where more than a million people live within five miles of its boundaries, the Sierra Club wrote in a statement on Wednesday.The spill was caused by a human error when a v --alve was left open, the Los Angeles Times reported. It was also not the field's first spill. Past spills at the Inglewood Oil Field, located in Culver City and Los Angeles County, have occurred in 2019, 2018, 2010, 2006 and 2005, exposing residents in the area to toxins and carcinogens, the Sierra Club added.After a history of community organizing, Tuesday's spill arms activists with further momentum to fight against this major public health and environmental crisis in California's largest county."Yesterday's oil spill is a deadly reminder that the environmental racism that's shaped and harmed Black, Indigenous, and people of color continues to put our health at risk," Martha Dina Argüello, of the STAND-LA Coalition, an environmental justice coalition, and Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, said in a Sierra Club statement. Of the people living in the area, 52 percent are Black, which is a much higher percentage than the countywide eight percent, the Sierra Club reported. The oil field is also located alongside homes and schools, putting families at risk for health outcomes from air pollution like lung disease, leukemia, lymphoma, lung cancer and asthma. In Baldwin Hills, asthma related ER visits are 4.4 times higher than the Los Angeles County average."A pattern of oil spills and the daily and 'authorized' toxic emissions both demonstrate that oil extraction is [an] inherently dangerous practice that has no place in our region. We look forward to working with Los Angeles County to take immediate steps to phase out oil and gas production," Argüello added, according to the Sierra Club.

Hilcorp shuts down two offshore platforms in Cook Inlet after natural gas leaks from fuel line -- Hilcorp Alaska shut down two offshore production platforms in Cook Inlet after a helicopter pilot spotted bubbling water on the surface last week. Natural gas was leaking from a line that provides fuel for the platforms’ operations, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation reported in a statement on Monday. Hilcorp stopped the leak on Saturday at 1:30 p.m., activating block valves, the agency said. The pilot discovered the leak on Thursday at about 4:30 p.m. Hilcorp reported the leak to the federal National Response Center and the state agency about an hour after the pilot discovered the bubbles, DEC said. Hilcorp notified appropriate federal and state agencies after the leak was discovered and immediately began shutting down the impacted facilities at Platforms A and C, Hilcorp spokesman Luke Miller said in a statement on Monday. “No sheen has been observed,” Miller said. “An assessment of the source of the leak is ongoing. No personnel or wildlife have been impacted.”

Shell Warns Oil-Price Gains Partly Offset by Hit From Texas Freeze – WSJ —Royal Dutch Shell PLC said gains it made from higher oil prices in the first quarter would be partly offset by disruption related to the winter storm in Texas, knocking the energy giant’s recovery from the pandemic.The company said Wednesday that the cold snap had hurt its production, refining and chemicals operations in the state, and would reduce earnings by around $200 million.The unusually cold weather left millions of Texans without power and resulted in outages at refineries and chemical plants, disrupted pipeline flows, and froze oil and natural-gas wells.Despite the disruption, Shell and other big oil companies are looking to mount a recovery this year after reporting some of their worst results on record for 2020. Covid-19 lockdowns sapped demand for oil, sending prices lower, prompting Shell and its peers to reduce costs, shrink workforces and cut dividends.“In actual results the turning point will more likely be the second quarter,” said Jason Kenney, an analyst at Spanish bank Santander, adding that energy companies’ profitability should continue to improve in the second half of the year given cost cutting and the higher oil prices.

The Oil Industry Receives An Unexpected Boost From Biden  -- The election of President Joe Biden has been the cause of much hand-wringing in the United States oil and gas sector. The current U.S. president has made clean energy and climate change a central part of his platform, at what many fear will be the expense of shale, one of the nation’s key economic sectors. This rather alarmist missive came on the heels of the then very new president’s decision to pull the plug on the massive Keystone XL pipeline project on his very first day in office. Babin’s sentiments have been echoed by plenty of oilfield insiders and pro-oil pundits who have not been shy about decrying the new administration’s less than cozy relationship with the shale sector.  That sentiment is understandable, with Biden’s Energy Secretary pick Jennifer Granholm issuing an ultimatum to the oil industry to adapt or die. Despite this rhetoric, it seems that the Biden administration is now throwing the oil industry a bone. The president’s much-touted infrastructure initiative is going to call for asphalt - lots and lots of asphalt - in an unexpected boon for the domestic oil sector. Last week Biden presented his $2.25 trillion infrastructure proposal that will provide a number of economic opportunities for oil, including $115 billion allocated to roads and bridges, and an additional $16 billion to get out of work oilfield laborers back into paid positions plugging abandoned wells across the United States.  The biggest opportunity, however, lies in the sky-high asphalt demand embedded in the infrastructure spending bill. The biggest winners may not be in the domestic market though. Since asphalt is derived from “the heaviest and most-dense material in a barrel of crude” this development could stand to benefit Canada’sstruggling oil sands the most, which will be ecstatic for any new market for their heavy crude bitumen. In fact, while the Biden administration is charging full steam ahead on the clean energy transition, with massive investments into electric vehicles and renewables, it’s clear that they have been listening to the oil sector and have been making a concerted effort not to leave oilfield workers behind. “Since taking office two months ago, Biden’s been more boon than bane for a fossil-fuel industry that was wary of the ascendance of a politician bent on accelerating the energy transition,”Bloomberg reported last week, citing Goldman Sachs’ assertion that Biden has been bullish for oil overall.

Enbridge sticks to North American oil, gas, renewables strategy — Canada's Enbridge expects future spending on growth projects to be more heavily weighted to natural gas and renewables than oil, as it works to meet its carbon reduction goals, CEO Al Monaco said April 7. While the North American midstream operator is betting on fossil fuels, including crude, being an integral part of the global fuel mix for decades to come, it is mindful of the challenge in building new cross-border oil pipelines due to regulatory hurdles and fierce opposition from environmental groups. It also believes it can leverage growth from certain existing infrastructure with a less intensive amount of new spending. During a discussion at the webcast Scotiabank CAPP Energy Symposium, Monaco said Enbridge wants to maintain its current approach and address the energy transition at the same time. Enbridge is holding to a fourth-quarter in-service target for its project to replace Line 3 -- a 1,097-mile crude oil pipeline extending from Edmonton, Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin, Monaco said. "The liquid systems are going to be generating cash for a long time from here," Monaco said. "Maybe, we are not going to convince every investor of that, but that's how we see it." Enbridge's goal in recent years has been to run a pure-play utility pipeline business that focuses on generating predictable long-term fixed fees. The company has sold billions of dollars in non-core assets to overhaul its portfolio around that mission, and it has retooled its corporate structure following the 2017 acquisition of US midstream operator Spectra Energy. Amid the current push by countries around the world to reduce their carbon footprint and use cleaner-burning fuels, Enbridge has also invested more in renewables, including wind and hydrogen. It views natural gas, because of its reliability, as a critical piece in building a bridge to a future with greater use of intermittent renewable energy.

Canadian pipeline companies sees natgas opportunities in shift to green energy  (Reuters) -Canada’s largest pipeline companies TC Energy and Enbridge Inc see opportunities in their extensive natural gas businesses as a transition to cleaner energy evolves, their chief executives said on Wednesday. The two Calgary-based companies are among North America’s largest energy infrastructure firms, and the majority of their business is focused on storing and transporting fossil fuels. TC Energy has the biggest natural gas pipeline system in North America, and CEO François Poirier said the company sees plenty of opportunities to allocate capital to that business in the form of organic bolt-on projects. Storage and transportation assets will be key as the energy transition moves forward and new technologies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions like carbon capture and storage and hydrogen are developed, Poirier said at the online Scotiabank CAPP Energy Symposium. “Transition can’t come fast enough from our perspective but we have to pace it appropriately. I believe natural gas and liquids will continue to play a prominent role in the energy economy for decades to come,” he said. “I believe our existing assets will continue to be used and be useful for quite a long time and generate a tremendous amount of cash flow that we will be able to deploy into the energy transition.” Enbridge CEO Al Monaco, speaking at the same conference, said he saw gas as the “great enabler” for the energy transition because it is a reliable source of power that can backstop renewables. “It’s low-cost, abundant, it’s important in reducing utilization of coal, but it’s equally important in fostering renewables. You’ve got to be able to create baseload capability and it addresses the enormous intermittency challenges,” he said.

Pemex aims to keep financial debt steady, increase crude refining (Reuters) - Mexico's Petroleos Mexicanos expects to maintain financial debt of $105 billion between 2021 and 2025 and increase crude refining, the state oil company said on Tuesday. Pemex, as the company is known, said one of its priorities will be to free up funds and gradually pay back some of its debt without necessarily taking on new obligations. "It is clear that high indebtedness represents a structural problem, attention to which should not be delayed," Pemex said in its latest business plan. "In the medium term, we do not rule out restructuring." Ratings agencies stripped Pemex of its coveted investment grade rating last year because of its high debt and other concerns. Pemex also said it expects crude refining to be 1.1 million barrels per day this year and rise to 1.6 million barrels per day in 2025.

Heritage Petroleum cleans oil spill near Vessigny - AN OPEN VALVE on a Heritage Petroleum Company Ltd crude oil tank led to approximately 318 liters of oil spilling into nearby watercourses, a release to the media said. Heritage said they are now in the process of cleaning the watercourse. The release said it was alerted to the leak by a video circulating on social media, showing oil in a watercourse near its AV106 well site in Vessigny, La Brea. Heritage said it took immediate action to determine the source of the leak which was traced to a crude oil tank at the well site. “Cleaning up the area is proceeding in accordance with established industry standards and protocols. Continuous assessment and monitoring of the site is also ongoing. All regulatory bodies were notified of the incident,” Heritage said. Heritage added that it is using booms – floating physical barriers which contain oil in watercourses during spills – in strategic locations. The release said this was not the first time that such an incident happened. “The previous incident was the result of the deliberate tampering of a valve on the tank. Subsequently, Heritage implemented an engineered solution with a view to curtailing similar incidents.” Heritage said tampering with its equipment could lead to serious injury of people and damage to the environment.

 Pipeline leaks more than 1,600 gallons of oil at Inglewood Oil Field -- A pipeline leaked more than 1,600 gallons of oil this week in the Inglewood Oil Field near Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area when a valve was left open. Human error caused the spill, which occurred at 8:10 a.m. Tuesday, according to a report from the state’s Office of Emergency Services. The report indicated that the spill had been contained and that E&B Natural Resources, the company that operates the pipeline, was handling the cleanup. In a statement, E&B spokesman Ted Cordova said that no injuries were reported and that the release of oil had remained contained due to an additional built-in safety measure to catch accidental spills.  Mario Tresierras, chief of the L.A. County Fire Department’s Health Hazardous Materials Division, said that his team observed the cleanup and that the spill hadn’t warranted an evacuation or notification to residents. “We would have taken action” if there had been a safety risk, he said. But environmental groups Wednesday expressed alarm about residents who may have been exposed to toxins released into the air and renewed their concern about the Inglewood Oil Field, the largest urban oil field in the country. It spans about 1,000 acres around Culver City, Baldwin Hills and neighboring communities. “Any spill that occurs in close proximity to neighborhoods puts people at risk, especially vulnerable populations like kids and elderly and folks with respiratory illnesses,” said Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.

Argentina's Illegal Oil and Gas Waste Dumps Show 'Dark Side' of Vaca Muerta Drilling, Says Criminal Complaint - On December 21, 2020, environmental crimes investigators in the western Argentine province of Neuquén carried out a raid against a company that handles fracking waste in the heart of the Vaca Muerta shale basin, a booming oil and gas field in northern Patagonia. They seized a cache of documents, and opened an investigation into the potential illegal handling of massive volumes of fracking waste.The raid on the Argentine waste company Comarsa by the office of Environmental Crimes and Special Laws, a unit under Neuquén’s chief prosecutor, was prompted by a lengthy criminal complaint filed to the office just a few days earlier by a group of environmental lawyers. Within the complaint, the lawyers document what they describe as a decade-long illegal accumulation of toxic fracking waste at multiple sites in the city of Neuquén, the largest city in Patagonia with a population over 300,000. The sites are located within the city and also on the outskirts of Añelo, a small desert town of 8,000 about an hour and a half drive northwest of Neuquén and the unofficial drilling capital of the Vaca Muerta.But the criminal complaint didn’t just target Comarsa, one of the leading handlers of fracking waste in the Vaca Muerta. It also pointed fingers at the municipalities of Neuquén and Añelo, the Secretariat of Territorial Development and Environment (environmental regulators for the province of Neuquén), and the region’s top oil producers, including ExxonMobil and Chevron. “The Vaca Muerta oil dumps are the result of a series of maneuvers that are part of a collusion between companies and state authorities,” Rafael Colombo, a lawyer for the Argentine Association of Environmental Lawyers, or AAAA,said in a press release when he filed the criminal complaint in December. According to AAAA, Comarsa earns huge sums “for the treatment of waste that they never treat,” Colombo said, “then they get the State to give them public lands to end up disposing of hazardous waste illegally.”The illegal fracking waste sites are the “dark side” of Vaca Muerta, he said.Fracking for oil and gas produces enormous quantities of liquid and solid waste. After a well is drilled, a slurry of water, drilling fluids, and other chemicals is injected into the well at extreme pressures to fracture the rock. Much of the resulting toxic cocktail, which can contain heavy metals and naturally occurring radioactive contamination, is returned to the surface for disposal.Drill cuttings, the pulverized rock from the drilling process, can also be radioactive.Disposing of this waste presents problems for drillers. Sometimes they reinject it deep underground, a process that can contribute to increased seismic activity. Drillers may also store waste in tanks or lined pits, or “recycle” and repurpose it for other industrial uses, each of which carries its own set of environmental and safety hazards.

Colombia oil workers join anti-fracking campaign (Reuters) - Colombia’s largest oil union has joined anti-fracking activists to oppose the development of non-conventional energy deposits and demand a quicker transition to renewable energy, campaigners said on Tuesday. The Petroleum Industry Workers Union (USO) and the Colombia Free from Fracking Alliance said in a joint statement they are joining forces to protect the Magdalena Medio region and the country as a whole from non-conventional exploration. Colombians are divided over the development of non-conventional deposits, including fracking for shale gas and coal bed methane. Commercial development of the deposits is currently not permitted, but the country’s highest administrative court is holding hearings ahead of a final ruling and has allowed pilot projects to go ahead in the meantime. “(USO) is joining forces with different social and political organizations in the country to oppose this type of exploitation and advocates an accelerated just energy transition,” union president Edwin Palma said in a post on Twitter. Some 120 other organizations form part of the anti-fracking alliance. USO has around 30,000 members.

Dutch cargo ship adrift off Norway after dramatic rescue (Reuters) - The crew of a Dutch cargo ship was evacuated in stormy weather off the coast of Norway late on Monday, leaving the abandoned vessel adrift and in danger of sinking and causing an oil spill, local authorities said on Tuesday. Footage released by the Norwegian Rescue Coordination Centre showed some of the 12 crew members jumping into the ocean from the badly listing Eemslift Hendrika before being rescued by helicopter. Others were hoisted directly from the deck. All were brought to safety, but the vessel - currently some 130 km (80 miles) off the coast in the North Sea - is at risk of sinking, Norwegian officials said. “The ship lost power on the main engine during the night and is drifting towards land,” Hans Petter Mortensholm of the Norwegian Coastal Administration, told public broadcaster NRK. “There is a risk it may capsize and sink,” Mortensholm said, adding that this could cause a spill. The Hendrika has around 350 tonnes of heavy oil and 50 tonnes of diesel in its tanks, the Coastal Administration said in a statement. Smit Salvage, a subsidiary of the Dutch marine services company Boskalis, told Reuters it had been contracted to try saving the ship and was mobilising a team to send to Norway later on Tuesday. Safety permitting, Smit would seek to get its own crew on board the Hendrika and link the vessel to a so-called anchor handling tug, a powerful ship built to move rigs for the oil industry. “Getting her onto a tow line and to a calmer location, that is the goal,” Smit Salvage spokesman Martijn Schuttevaer said. . 

 Norway fears cargo ship will run aground, spill oil within hours (Reuters) - A Dutch cargo ship that was abandoned at sea during a storm this week is on course to run aground in Norway early on Thursday and could cause an oil spill unless a last-ditch effort to save the vessel prevails, local officials said on Wednesday. The Eemslift Hendrika, badly listing after parts of its cargo shifted in the rough weather, is adrift just 18 kilometres (11 miles) from shore and could make landfall at around 0230 GMT, the Norwegian Coastal Administration (NCA) said. While the NCA earlier said the Hendrika was drifting parallel to the coast, and that rescue efforts could wait for another day while two large tugs remain on standby, it will now accelerate the effort. “We’ve succeeded in lowering a salvage crew onto the Eemslift Hendrika. They are working to establish tow lines,” the NCA said in a statement. The Hendrika has around 350 tonnes of heavy oil and 50 tonnes of diesel in its tanks, it added. Footage released by the Norwegian Rescue Coordination Centre on Tuesday showed some of the original crew members jumping into the sea before being rescued by helicopter. Others were hoisted directly from the deck.

An Italian oil tanker suffered a technical failure in the Suez Canal. -- According to local media reports in Egypt, on April 6 local time, the Italian oil tanker Rumford stopped at 133 kilometers of the Suez Canal due to “technical failure” when sailing from Hungary to the Suez Canal. Sources indicate that the ship’s failure in the middle of the Suez Canal “did not affect its navigation”, and tugboats will transport it to Great Bitter Lake for troubleshooting.

Russian region hit by oil spill at Bashneft field - A major oil spill from an infield pipeline has reportedly left a spring in central Russia heavily polluted. Bashneft, a regional subsidiary of oil giant Rosneft, has acknowledged the spill from a pipeline running near the village of Pavlovka in the Bizhbulyaksky district in the Bashkiria region.The acknowledgement came after local residents and the region's Emergency Situations Ministry posted photographs of the accident online on 1 April, showing a local spring running across a field that has been heavily polluted by a dark substance.According to the Emergency Situations Ministry, about 300 cubic metres of “an oil and water mixture” has been spilled from a pipeline, running from the nearby Skhapovskoye field that is being developed by Bashneft. About 350 square metres of ground have been polluted with oil, with spill response teams continuing to remove polluted soil from the site of the incident and transport it to a processing site in the Ishimbaysky district.Bashneft said in a short statement that “an insignificant volume" of liquid containing oil was spilled and has been surrounded by booms."There is no threat of oil-containing liquid entering water reservoirs," it said. At least two major oil spills were reported in March at oilfields in West Siberia operated by Rosneft subsidiaries Yuganskneftegaz and Nyaganneftegaz. An oil spill accident on the Malo-Balykskoye field, developed by Yuganskneftegaz, was initially spotted by passengers of a local train who then reported it to authorities.As representatives of the regional Emergency Situations Ministry arrived to the site, they reportedly discovered that the operator had already taken most of polluted soil from the accident site after failing to promptly report the incident to authorities.According to an official estimate, up to 1500 cubic metres (about 9434 barrels) of the oil and water mixture was leaked from a ruptured field pipeline to the ground and nearby lakes.The true scope o f oil pollution at the Malo-Balykskoye field will be gauged once all snow melts in the area, according to the ministry.Another incident was registered on the Talinsky block that is licenced to Nyaganneftegaz, with an estimated 50 cubic metres (about 314 barrels) of oil escaping from a faulty pipeline.An earlier incident on the Ob river near the West Siberian city of Nizhnevartovsk went viral in Russian social networks in early March as witnesses filmed a fire on the river surface. According to authorities, light hydrocarbons were leaked from a ruptured pipeline on the riverbed and then ignited.

Russia slashes 2021-2022 oil production forecasts -Russia is slashing its estimates for domestic crude oil, gas, and coal production for 2021 and 2022, according to the latest amendments in the government’s program for energy development.As per the latest forecasts from the Russian government, oil production this year is set to stand at 517 million tons, down from a previous estimate of 560 million tons. The projection for Russia’s oil output in 2022 was also reduced, to 548 million tons, down from earlier estimates of production of 558 million tons, TASS news agency reports.The estimates for the oil production for 2023 and 2024 remain unchanged, according to the document approved by the government.Natural gas production is also estimated lower than previous projections, as is coal output. Yet, the Russian government kept its projection for liquefied natural gas (LNG) production the same as in earlier forecasts, expecting LNG production at 30.1 million tons in 2021. Last month, Russia’s government approved a long-term development program for LNG, expecting production capacity to rise threefold from current levels to 140 million tons per year by 2035.Russia is also targeting increased LNG exports, considering the expectations of sustained growth in LNG demand and trade globally, Russia’s Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said in March. Still, the reduced forecasts for oil production for this year and next likely reflect, in part, the ongoing OPEC+ agreement.

 Shell confirms oil spill in Bayelsa community - The Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) has confirmed oil spill from its facility at Agbura-Otuokpoti area of Yenagoa, the state capital. The comapny’s Media Relations Manager, Bamidele Odugbesan, confirmed the incident in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Yenagoa on Friday. Odugbesan said the company got a report of the spill on March 31. “At about 8.30am on March 31, a community surveillance vendor reported a leak on the company’s Joint Venture pipeline at Nun River in Bayelsa. “Following the development, the facility was shut down and full isolation established at 09.45am. “The SPDC Oil Spill Response Team was mobilised to the spill site and was able to contain the spill to prevent further spread. “The Joint Investigation Visit team led by government regulator will determine the cause and impact of the spill,” Odugbesan said. He, however, said that there was an anonymous note found at the spill site, suggesting sabotage. Residents, who said the oil workers had yet to come to the site as at Friday, have resorted to scooping oil from water surface into drums. Daniel Ebitimi, who claimed that crude oil has curative effect on burns and skin diseases, said he collected some kegs, which he hoped to sell. The predominantly fishing and farming settlements regretted that the leakage discharged large volumes of crude oil into the River, resulting in pollution of the waters.

 NGO tackles Chevron over oil spill in Gbaramatu -- The Centre for Peace and Environmental Justice on Monday said the failure of Chevron Nigeria Limited to accept responsibility for the Gbaramatu oil spill was to undermine the wellbeing and environment of people living in the affected communities. CEPEJ said the oil spill had continued to ravage the affected areas for almost two months, as it faulted the denial by Chevron with respect to the spill. The Chief Executive Officer, CEPEJ, Chief Sheriff Mulade, said in a statement that Chevron’s claim that its facilities were not responsible for the oil spill because the pressure in its control room did not indicate that there was a leakage or a drop somewhere was not tenable. He argued that Chevron should re-examine its claim as there could be system failure that had made it difficult for it to detect the leakage from its facilities in the affected communities. Although he admitted that Chevron shared facilities with the Nigeria Petroleum Development Company field Jones Creek flow-station in the affected location, Chevron’s 16” crude line runs from Makaraba through Otunana to Abiteye and the leakage was between Otunana and Abiteye. Mulade stated that from the detailed investigations carried out by CEPEJ on the oil spill, the leakage was at the centre of Nana River, located between Kokodiag-bane and Benikrukru. “The two communities are adjacent and opposite each other, while in-between them is the Nana River that is a ship line route where all vessels pass through to Sapele, Koko and Lagos ports,” he said. He insisted that Chevron’s facilities in the affected areas might not be exonerated from the spill. Mulade said, “If you do an over flight like I hear Chevron did, you may not be able to see the point of leakage because the spill is deep under the river and you may not see it when you move around but only when the tide slows down. “And because the spill is gas pressured, you stand a chance of being suffocated in the area if you stay there for more than five to 10 minutes. That is the extent to which the spill is dangerous.” CEPEJ said it had earlier called on Chevron to immediately address the spill, but noted that the response from the company had not been impressive. Reacting to the position of the NGO, Chevron insisted that the oil spill was not from its assets. A statement sent to our correspondent on Monday by the oil firm read in part, “CNL (Chevron Nigeria Limited) has investigated and continues to survey its assets in the Abiteye and Utonana fields including the 16” Makaraba-Utonana-Abiteye right-of-way. “And CNL confirms that there has not been any indication that the oil sheen on water is from its assets in Abiteye, Makaraba and Utonana fields or from any other CNL facilities as alleged.”

Coast Guard collects 2K-liter oil residue from sunken ship – The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and local community were able to collect at least 2,000 liters of oil residue from an old cargo ship that sank in the coastal Barangay Lower Jasaan, Jasaan town, Misamis Oriental on Sunday. Sabas Tagarda Jr., Lower Jasaan village chairman, said the oil residue was caused by the sinking of MV Racal IV, a cargo boat that had been docked at a local shipyard in Lower Jasaan five years ago. Using sawdust and mosquito net, PCG was able to collect the oil that was already mixed with saltwater. He said to capture the oil, sawdust is spread out to the sea. Oil is absorbed by the sawdust which is then gathered using the mosquito net. “It is simple yet effective. So far, we were able to collect almost half of the oil in my area of responsibility,” Tagarda said, adding that it is his hope that other village leaders will follow this method. However, residents in the said barangay have also expressed concern that oil spill caused by the sunken old cargo ship could affect the livelihood of the village’s fisherfolk. Petty Officer 2nd Class Ronald Moncayo, acting chief of the PCG’s Marine Environment Protection Force based in Misamis Oriental, said the sinking occurred early Saturday morning, Prior to that, it was already reported there was a hull breach that is causing the seawater to seep into the vessel. He added that a salvage company has asked permission to “pump out” any remaining fluids such as oil inside the boat before scrapping it, adding that the ship was no longer operational and was sold to a new owner when it sank. “I told them (salvage company) to put spill booms around the vessel as requirement before we could allow them to conduct a ‘pump out,’ but it sank before the salvaging company could comply with the requirement,” Moncayo said.

 Fire, oil spill at Chinas Penglai platform- Update -- An offshore crude production platform in China's Bohai bay has caught fire and spilt oil, forcing output to be halted, market participants said.The accident happened on 5 April at the Penglai 19-3 field, which is operated by state-owned CNOOC in a 51:49 venture with US independent ConocoPhillips. The third wellhead production platform at Penglai's phase 3 caught fire and has been largely destroyed, leaving some workers missing, according to industry participants in China.The incident was confirmed by an employee at one of the companies involved, although the details are unclear. ConocoPhillips referred questions to CNOOC. CNOOC did not immediately respond to requests for comment.The platform is still on fire and at risk of collapse if the blaze is not extinguished soon, a market participant said.Penglai 19-3 was one of China's largest oil fields when it was discovered more than 20 years ago. ConocoPhillips also has a 49pc non-operating share in Penglai's 19-9 and 25-6 blocks, which together with the 19-3 field produced a combined 30,000 b/d in 2020. The phase 3 project comprises mainly three new wellhead platforms and a central processing facility.The Penglai fields produce heavy-sweet crude that is sold to CNOOC's own refineries and to independent refiners in Shandong province.An oil spill at the Penglai fields in 2011 resulted in CNOOC and ConocoPhillips paying several hundred million dollars in compensation.

CNOOC sees minimal output hit from China oil field fire -- China's state-controlled CNOOC expects a fire at one of its offshore platforms earlier this week to reduce crude production by around 600,000 bl this year.A production platform at the company's Penglai fields in northeast China's Bohai bay was hit by a fire on 5 April after shallow gas overflowed during drilling operations, CNOOC said today in its first comment on the incident.Argus reported the fire yesterday.The fire was extinguished on 6 April and there has been no oil spill or environmental pollution so far, CNOOC said. The company evacuated 99 of the 102 people on the platform at the time of the incident, and search operations are underway for the three missing workers.The incident is likely to affect up to around 600,000 bl of production this year, which CNOOC estimated at 0.1pc of its total output. CNOOC has set aproduction target of 1.49mn-1.52mn b/d of oil equivalent (boe/d) this year. It produced 1.44mn boe/d in 2020, including 1.12mn b/d of liquids.The fire hit the third wellhead platform at the Penglai 19-3 field's phase 3 operations, market participants s aid. CNOOC operates the field in a 51:49 joint venture with US independent ConocoPhillips.

Qatar Petroleum and Shell Partner in Namibia - Qatar Petroleum announced on Tuesday that it has entered into an agreement with Shell to become a partner in two exploration blocks offshore the Republic of Namibia. Under the terms of the deal, which is said to be subject to customary approvals, Qatar Petroleum will hold a 45 percent participating interest in the PEL 39 exploration license in Block 2913A and Block 2914B. Shell will hold a 45 percent operated interest in the asset and the National Petroleum Corporation of Namibia (NAMCOR) will hold the remaining 10 percent stake. The PEL 39 blocks are located in ultra-deep-water depths of about 8,200 feet, covering an area of approximately 4,750 square miles, Qatar Petroleum highlighted. This is the company’s second exploration license in Namibia. In August 2019, the business entered into agreements for participating in blocks 2913B and 2912 offshore Namibia. “With this second exploration and production sharing agreement in Namibia, we are pleased to expand our exploration footprint in the country, and to further strengthen our presence in the southern Africa region,” Saad Sherida Al-Kaabi, the minister of state for energy affairs, and the president and chief executive officer of Qatar Petroleum, said in a company statement. According to Shell’s website, Shell Namibia Upstream BV currently has a 45 percent controlling interest in PEL 39, with Kosmos Energy holding a 45 percent stake and NAMCOR holding the remaining 10 percent interest. Shell completed three seismic surveys of PEL 39 between 2014 and 2019, the company notes on its website, adding that the purpose of the surveys was to identify geological structures below the seabed which might contain oil or gas.

Eni Makes New Light Oil Find - Eni has announced that it has made a new light oil discovery in Block 15/06 in Angola’s deep offshore. The Cuica-1 NFW well, which was drilled on the Cuica exploration prospect located inside the Cabaça Development Area, resulted in an oil find estimated to be between 200 million and 250 million barrels of oil in place, Eni revealed. Cuica-1 NFW was drilled as a deviated well by the Libongos drillship in a water depth of 1,640 feet, and reached a total vertical depth of 13,451 feet, encountering a 262-foot total column of reservoir of light oil in sandstones of Miocene age with good petrophysical properties, Eni noted. The company added that the discovery well is going to be sidetracked “updip” to be placed in an “optimal position” as a producer well. Eni said the result of “intensive” data collection indicates an expected production capacity of around 10,000 barrels of oil per day. The well-head location, intentionally placed close to East Hub’s subsea network, will allow a fast-track tie-in of the well and relevant production, Eni stated. The company expects that production will start within six months after the discovery. Cuica is the second significant oil discovery inside the existing Cabaça Development Area, Eni highlighted. Block 15/06 is operated by Eni with a 36.8421 percent interest, Sonangol P&P, which also has a 36.8421 percent stake, and SSI Fifteen Limited, which holds the remaining 26.3158 interest. Last month, Eni, through Var Energi, which is jointly owned by Eni (69.85 percent) and by HitecVision (30.15 percent) announced a “significant” oil discovery in production license 090/090I in the northern North Sea. During the same month, and again through Var Energi, Eni announced an oil discovery in production license PL532 in the Barents Sea. Back in December, Eni announced a new oil discovery in the Meleiha Concession in the Western Desert of Egypt.

Oman oil exports stage strong rebound in March - Oman's oil exports rebounded from a 19-month low in February to average 776,000 b/d in March, according to energy ministry data. A reduction in crude intake at the country's refineries left more available for export last month, according to a ministry source. The near 10pc jump from February's 709,000 b/d marks the biggest month-on-month increase in shipments of Oman Export Blend since June 2020. Oman's export grade is a blend of crude and condensate. Data for Oman's refined product output and consumption last month is not yet available. But an emergency shutdown of a residual fluid catalytic cracker at Oman's 198,000 b/d Sohar refinery in the middle of the month boosted the amount of crude that was available for export, according to the ministry source. The shutdown lasted for around 20 days and ended yesterday. A nationwide night-time curfew imposed at the start of the month will also have weighed on demand for transport fuels, which had recovered somewhat in February, when Covid-19 measures were more relaxed. According to the latest data from Oman's National Centre for Statistics and Information, domestic gasoil demand rose by 6pc on the month to 36,000 b/d in February, while gasoline demand edged up by 1pc to 60,500 b/d over the same period. Jet fuel demand, however, fell by 12pc to 3,600 b/d in February, in large part due to a ban on flights from 10 countries that came into effect in February. Official data for March will likely be released in the last week of this month. Increased condensate production since the middle of last year has helped Oman keep its overall liquids production at relatively elevated levels, despite its participation in the Opec+ output restraint deal. Condensate production has been excluded from the agreement since December 2019. Oman's condensate output edged up to 222,000 b/d in March, from 220,000 b/d in February, just shy of January's record high of 228,000 b/d. The sultanate's crude production was also marginally up on the month at 730,000 b/d, from 729,000 b/d in February, but still below its current Opec+ crude output ceiling of 732,000 b/d. This puts Oman's total liquids output at 952,000 b/d in March, up marginally from 949,000 b/d in February.

Indian refiners limit cuts to May Saudi crude imports - State-controlled Indian refiners have asked to buy around 9.5mn bl (305,000 b/d) of term crude from Saudi Arabia for May loading, lower than typical levels in line with a government directive to reduce the country's dependence on Mideast Gulf crude, a senior official involved in the import talks said. The planned cuts to India's May nominations come as souring relations between Delhi and Riyadh have prompted a renewed import diversification drive. But the extent of the proposed May cuts is relatively mild — equivalent to only around a 5pc decline on pre-Covid import levels, according to Argus' analysis of state-controlled importers' internal purchase data — and in line with a potential fall in fuel demand as India fights a resurgent Covid-19 outbreak. State-run IOC, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum imported a combined 17mn t/yr (10mn bl/month or 340,000 b/d) of crude from Saudi Arabia in the April 2019-March 2020 financial year, before the pandemic disrupted trade flows. Saudi arrivals fell to an average of around 8.8mn bl/month, or 290,000 b/d, in the 10 months between April 2020 and January 2021, in line with a drop in India's total imports, the company data show. State-controlled Saudi Aramco has typically cut its allocations to Asia-Pacific buyers over the past year to comply with Opec+ production curbs, which may have sent actual deliveries below contractual volumes. Smaller refiners MRPL and HMEL buy some Saudi crude under term deals, and private-sector Reliance Industries (RIL) and Nayara take a significant amount of Saudi crude. Privately operated companies are not covered by the government directives. India's crude imports from Saudi Arabia fell to 753,000 b/d in 2020 from 855,000 b/d a year earlier, as the Covid-19 pandemic hit demand. Imports were 640,000 b/d in the first quarter of this year, according to Vortexa. The relationship between India and Saudi Arabia has come under pressure since Opec+ cuts helped send Ice Brent crude futures prices to around $70/bl last month. Delhi has complained about Opec+ policies, leading Saudi Arabia to suggest that India withdraws some of the lower-priced crude stocks it built up when markets crashed last year. High fuel taxes in India have helped send pump prices to record levels, making oil prices a sensitive political issue. Oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan, under pressure to reduce prices, has resent instructions to state-run refiners to diversify their crude supplies, officials at the refiners said. 

Libya's largest oilfield could see exports interrupted - The largest oilfield in Libya, the 300,000-bpd Sharara field, could see crude oil exports from it disrupted if members of the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) follow through with their threat to shut down exports if their demands for pay are not met. Earlier this week, the PFG issued an ultimatum demanding they be paid field allowance compensation, Argus reported on Thursday.The Sharara oilfield was pumping crude oil near its capacity, at a rate of 280,000 bpd as of the middle of March, according to internal memos of the Akakus Oil joint venture operating the oilfield seen by Argus. The threats of guards disrupting exports over unpaid wages or other allowances are nothing new in Libya’s oil industry, which has been suffering for ten years now from fighting since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011.In February this year, a tanker had to leave Libya’s Hariga export terminal without oil after members of the Petroleum Facilities Guard stopped the vessel from loading crude amid a strike over delayed salary payments.In March, a new cabinet was sworn in, the first unity government of the war-torn country since 2014, reviving hopes that Libya could see more stability in oil production going forward. Libya—exempted from the OPEC+ cuts—surprised many oil market observers, and probably the OPEC+ group itself, after managing in just a few months to restore its oil production back to 1.25 million bpd from less than 100,000 in September 2020, when an eight-month-long blockade on its oil ports ended.Libya may be able to maintain its current level of oil production of around 1.2 million bpd until the end of this year as the oil sector is finally receiving enough funding for field maintenance and development, Libya’s Oil Minister Mohamed Oun told Bloomberg in an interview last month. In March, Oun was sworn in as the first oil minister of the country since 2014.

OPEC is betting big on robust oil demand recovery -Last week’s surprise decision from OPEC+ to ease the production cuts by a cumulative 2 million barrels per day (bpd) by July relies on expectations of robust oil demand recovery in the second quarter. Yet, recent demand concerns suggest the alliance’s supply management policies could once again be more in the realm of guestimates.The easing of the collective cuts by over 1 million bpd over the next three months, plus Saudi Arabia reversing gradually its extra 1 million bpd cut signal that OPEC+ expects demand to rebound strongly and justify supply increases, Reuters columnist Clyde Russell writes.       However, the unpredictability of the COVID resurgence in major economies lagging behind in vaccination programs could spoil the OPEC+ forecasts and supply management policies once again. Last week, OPEC+ decided to gradually increase collective oil production by 350,000 bpd in each of May and June and by more than 400,000 bpd in July. Additionally, Saudi Arabia will also gradually ease its extra unilateral cut of 1 million bpd over the course of the next few months, beginning with monthly production increases of 250,000 bpd in each of May and June.Although the initial knee-jerk reaction to the outcome of the OPEC+ meeting on Thursday was heavy selling in oil because additional supply is coming, prices finished strong that day with more than 3-percent gains as the market realized that OPEC+ expects strengthening of oil demand with its decision to put more crude on the market. Asia’s demand for crude looks strong as gasoline demand looks robust, but demand for diesel and jet fuel is still soft, according to Reuters’ Russell. India, the world’s third-largest oil importer, added another scare to oil demand forecasts this week, with a record-high number of new COVID cases and a lockdown in the biggest city, MumbaiMost analysts continue to believe that the market will be able to absorb the new barrels from OPEC+ with strengthening demand going into the summer months. Goldman Sachs, for example, is still bullish on oil and anticipates strong demand that would require OPEC+ putting another 2 million bpd on the market in the third quarter, after the around 2 million bpd that the alliance and Saudi Arabia decided to return between May and July.

Oil prices hang in the balance ahead of Iran nuclear talks, but experts don’t expect a breakthrough -- The U.S. and Iran are ramping up efforts to resolve a nuclear standoff that has global oil markets on edge and experts skeptical of success. "It's crunch time for these negotiations," Helima Croft, global head of commodities strategy at RBC Capital Markets told CNBC's Hadley Gamble on Tuesday, as representatives gathered in Vienna, Austria for "indirect talks" aimed at bringing both countries back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. "We're going into election season in Iran in a couple of weeks, and if we don't get a significant breakthrough in these negotiations, everything is likely to freeze," she said. While the talks are the most significant step forward yet in efforts to revive the deal, neither side expects a major breakthrough. Iranian officials want the U.S. to end Trump-era economic sanctions before returning to compliance — a concession Washington seems unwilling to accept. "I don't think we can expect very much," Albert Wolf, an associate fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, told CNBC on Tuesday. Skepticism over the talks was compounded by reports that European officials would act as intermediaries between the U.S. and Iran, rather than both sides meeting face-to-face to discuss the issues. "There hadn't even been any formal or informal talks between the U.S. and Iranian sides, so it looks as if at present time, these talks are going to be a bust," Wolf said. U.S. officials themselves appear to be equally sober about the talks. "We don't underestimate the scale of the challenges ahead. These are early days," State Department spokesman Ned Price said during a press call Monday. "We don't anticipate an early or immediate breakthrough, as these discussions we fully expect will be difficult. But we do believe that these discussions with our partners and, in turn, our partners with Iran is a healthy step forward." Price added: "We don't anticipate at present that there will be direct talks with Iran, though, of course, we remain open to them. And so we'll have to see how things go starting early this week." One of OPEC's largest oil producers, Iran's exports were slashed in the years following the U.S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. A return to the deal and the lifting of U.S. sanctions on Iranian crude could significantly impact oil market dynamics. Croft said "significant movement" in the talks would raise the prospect of large quantities of Iran oil returning to the global market. "If they get a breakthrough in the next couple of weeks, I think we could be looking at significant quantities hitting the market in the second half of the year," she said.

EIA Raises Oil Price Forecasts Again --The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has again raised its Brent and West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil price forecasts for both 2021 and 2022. As its April short term energy outlook (STEO) shows, the organization now sees Brent spot prices averaging $62.28 per barrel this year and $60.49 per barrel in 2022. WTI spot prices are now expected to average $58.89 per barrel in 2021 and $56.74 per barrel in 2022. The EIA’s March STEO saw Brent spot prices averaging $60.67 per barrel in 2021 and $58.51 per barrel next year. WTI spot prices were expected to average $57.24 per barrel in 2021 and $54.75 per barrel in 2022, back in March. In February, the EIA projected that Brent spot prices would average $53.20 per barrel in 2021 and $55.19 per barrel in 2022. WTI spot prices were expected to average $50.21 per barrel this year and $51.56 per barrel next year, in February. Back in January, the EIA saw Brent spot prices averaging $52.70 per barrel in 2021 and $53.44 per barrel in 2022. WTI spot prices were expected to average $49.70 per barrel in 2021 and $49.81 per barrel in 2022, in January. In its April STEO, the EIA forecasted that global consumption of petroleum and liquid fuels will average 97.7 million barrels per day for all of 2021, which it highlighted was up by 5.5 million barrels per day from 2020. The EIA now expects global oil inventories to fall by 1.8 million barrels per day in the first half of 2021 and said forecast increases in global oil supply will contribute to a mostly balanced market during the second half of 2021. The organization warned, however, that this depends heavily on future production decisions by OPEC+, the responsiveness of U.S. tight oil production to oil prices, and the pace of oil demand growth, among other factors. The EIA noted that its April STEO remains subject to heightened levels of uncertainty because responses to Covid-19 continue to evolve.

Oil falls more than 4% as coming OPEC+ production ramp weighs - Oil fell more than 4% on Monday as rising supply from OPEC+ and higher Iranian output countered signs of a strong economic rebound in the United States. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies, known as OPEC+, agreed on Thursday to monthly production hikes from May to July. OPEC member Iran, exempt from making voluntary cuts, is also boosting supply. "The timing was not good," said Bob Yawger, director of energy futures at Mizuho Securities. "It seemed like OPEC+ was going to roll the deal, but they didn't and now it looks like they're going to have to pay at least in the short term." Brent crude for June fell $3.08, or 4.8%, to $61.78 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude for May settled $2.80, or 4.56%, lower at $58.65 per barrel. In another development that could eventually boost supply, investors are focused on indirect talks between Iran and the United States as part of negotiations to revive the 2015 nuclear deal. "There is an assumption that we're going to see this flood of Irianian oil in the market," said Phil Flynn, senior analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. "I think this is overstated a little bit." Eurasia analyst Henry Rome said he expected U.S. sanctions, including restrictions on Iranian oil sales, to be lifted only after these talks are completed and Iran returns to compliance. Iran has already boosted exports to China despite the sanctions. Oil has recovered from historic lows last year with the support of record OPEC+ cuts, most of which will remain after July. Demand is expected to recover further in the second half. While a slow vaccine rollout and return to lockdown in parts of Europe have weighed, figures on Friday showed the U.S. economy created the most jobs in seven months in March. Still, tightening lockdowns in France and a spike of cases in India have darkened the outlook for a global economic rebound to boost oil demand.

U.S. oil prices drop nearly 5% on expectations for a rise in supplies -  Oil futures settled sharply lower on Monday, with U.S. prices down almost 5%. The decline follows a decision by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and their allies last week to incrementally increase production from May through July. There's also a "reduced demand outlook with COVID cases rising dramatically in India and several other countries," said Tariq Zahir, managing member at Tyche Capital Advisors. Meanwhile, upcoming talks, with the U.S. possibly easing sanctions on Iran and potentially getting back into the nuclear deal, may lead to higher global supplies of oil, said Zahir. West Texas Intermediate crude for May delivery fell $2.80, or 4.6%, to settle at $58.65 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. That was the lowest front-month contract finish since March 25, FactSet data show.

Oil climbs on weaker dollar, outweighing OPEC+ supply worries - Oil prices rose early on Tuesday as a drop in the U.S. dollar made crude a more attractive buy, paring losses of more than 4% incurred overnight on the prospect of producers returning more than 2 million barrels per day of supply to the market by July. Brent crude futures jumped 83 cents, or 1.3%, to $62.98 a barrel at 0012 GMT, after falling 4.2% on Monday. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures rose 80 cents, or 1.4%, to $59.45 barrel, after sliding 4.6% on Monday. "The weaker U.S. dollar is a contributor, and increasing (U.S.) growth confidence helps," said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets and Stockbroking. The dollar fell 0.4% against a basket of currencies <=USD> on Monday and dipped a bit further on Tuesday. Oil prices typically rise against a falling dollar, as a weaker greenback makes dollar-priced oil cheaper for those holding other currencies. Adding to positive sentiment, England is set to ease coronavirus pandemic restrictions on April 12, with the opening of businesses including all shops, gyms, hair salons and outdoor hospitality areas. That helped offset worries about the agreement last week by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies, known as OPEC+, to bring back 350,000 barrels per day (bpd) of supply in May, another 350,000 bpd in June and a further 400,000 bpd or so in July. Saudi Arabia is also set to phase out its extra voluntary cut of 1 million bpd over those three months. At the same time OPEC member Iran, exempt from making voluntary cuts, is boosting supply. The push by OPEC+ to add supply came despite concerns about a rise in COVID-19 cases. "Rising virus cases in countries such as India and the European Union are keeping traders cautious, with any renewed restrictions likely to weigh on demand," ANZ Research said in a note.

Oil gains 1% on strong U.S., China economic data - (Reuters) -Strong economic data from China and the United States helped lift oil prices by 1% on Tuesday, recouping some of the previous session’s steep losses. Brent rose 59 cents, or 1%, to settle at $62.74 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude rose 68 cents, or 1.2%, to settle at $59.33 a barrel. Prices were buoyed as data showed U.S. services activity touched a record high in March. China’s service sector also gathered steam with the sharpest increase in sales in three months. England was set to ease more coronavirus restrictions on April 12, allowing businesses including all shops, gyms, hair salons and outdoor hospitality venues to reopen. On Monday, both oil benchmarks fell by about $3 because of increasing OPEC+ oil supply and rising COVID-19 infections in India and parts of Europe. Last week, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies, known as OPEC+, agreed to return 350,000 barrels per day (bpd) of supply in May, another 350,000 bpd in June and a further 400,000 bpd or so in July. “Although OPEC+ went against what most market participants and its own research team thought, raising its oil output significantly over the next three months, the market is now signalling that it is OK with it and is ready to benefit from the lack of uncertainty that a month-to-month update would have brought,” . Coronavirus-related deaths worldwide crossed 3 million on Tuesday, according to a Reuters tally, as the global resurgence of infections challenges vaccination efforts around the globe. New restrictions in Europe also weighed on prices. “This will likely raise concerns over demand, given that, at the moment, a large part of the constructive outlook for the oil market is based on the assumption that we see a strong demand recovery over the second half of this year,” . In the United States, oil production is expected to fall by 270,000 bpd in 2021 to 11.04 million bpd, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said, a steeper decline than its previous monthly forecast for a drop of 160,000 bpd. U.S. crude stockpiles were down by 2.6 million barrels in the week ended April 2, according to three market sources, citing American Petroleum Institute figures. Forecasters had predicted a drop of just 1.4 million barrels. Official government data is due on Wednesday. U.S. and Iranian officials were due to begin indirect talks in Vienna on Tuesday to revive the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, which could lead to Washington lifting sanctions on Iran’s energy sector. Goldman Sachs said any potential recovery in Iranian oil exports would not be a shock to the market, and full recovery would not occur until summer 2022. Meanwhile, tensions between Saudi Arabia and India simmered. Indian state refiners plan to buy 36% less oil from Saudi Arabia in May than normal, three sources said. 

WTI Drops After Big Surprise Product Inventory Builds -Oil prices ended higher today, but closed back below $60 after a big roundtrip as overnight hopes limped away as a sense that Biden's infrastructure plan may not be as big as the bulls had hoped, raising further doubts around energy demand.Investors read the decision by OPEC+ to gradually increase market supply as a statement of confidence in demand late last week, although fresh lockdown measures in Europe and rising Covid-19 cases elsewhere have served to quickly drain that optimism."The current situation is fragile, therefore revisiting the recent highs (of oil prices) ... is not imminent”commented PVM analyst Tamas Varga, before adding that “until there are palpable signs of falling infection rates the oil market is likely to remain violent and hectic”.For now, the algos are focused on one number only...API

  • Crude -2.618mm
  • Cushing -84k
  • Gasoline +4.553mm
  • Distillates +2.81mm

Crude stocks drew down for the second week in a row, but the big surge in product inventories is a surprise...Graphics Source: Bloomberg.  WTI hovered around $59.50 ahead of the API data and slipped lower after... We suspect the next mnove will be triggered by headlines surrounding the fact that Western and Iranian officials kicked off talks to revive the embattled 2015 nuclear accord, amid the challenge of bitter relations between Washington and Tehran, punishing U.S. sanctions on the Islamic Republic, and moves by Iran to accelerate its nuclear activity.

 OPEC daily basket price stood at $60.68 a barrel Wednesday --- The price of OPEC basket of thirteen crudes stood at US$60.68 a barrel on Wednesday, 7th April 2021, compared with $61.33 the previous day, according to OPEC Secretariat calculations. The OPEC Reference Basket of Crudes is made up of the following: Saharan Blend (Algeria), Girassol (Angola), Djeno (Congo), Zafiro (Equatorial Guinea), Rabi Light (Gabon), Iran Heavy (Islamic Republic of Iran), Basra Light (Iraq), Kuwait Export (Kuwait), Es Sider (Libya), Bonny Light (Nigeria), Arab Light (Saudi Arabia), Murban (UAE) and Merey (Venezuela).

Oil up on global economic recovery, but hefty U.S. fuel stocks weigh -(Reuters) -Oil futures inched higher on Wednesday on an improving global economic outlook, but gains were capped by rising gasoline inventories and fears that new coronavirus outbreaks will weaken a global recovery in fuel demand. Brent crude futures settled at $63.16 a barrel, up 42 cents, or 0.7%. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude settled at $59.77 a barrel, gaining 44 cents, or 0.7%. U.S. crude stocks fell 3.5 million barrels last week, but gasoline inventories jumped 4 million barrels, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said, compared with expectations in a Reuters poll for a 221,000-barrel gasoline drop. [EIA/S] “If you don’t need to make gasoline, then you don’t need to use more crude oil,” Prices drew support when the Federal Reserve released minutes from last month’s meeting that reinforced the U.S. central bank’s position that it will refrain from raising rates anytime soon, boosting the fuel demand outlook. The International Monetary Fund on Tuesday said unprecedented public spending to fight COVID-19 would push global growth to 6% this year, a rate not achieved since the 1970s, which also helped the fuel demand outlook and supported prices. However, rising COVID-19 cases in the Americas, which accounted for more than half of all coronavirus-related deaths last week, capped gains. “There’s concern globally with the rise in COVID-19 cases again and now Canada staring down a third wave, the market continues to be haunted by these demand issues from the outbreaks,” Also, global crude supplies could increase as Iran and major world powers took steps toward reviving an agreement that froze Iran’s nuclear weapons development. The parties agreed to form working groups to discuss the possibility of reviving the 2015 deal that could lead to Washington lifting sanctions on Iran’s energy sector. “Iran is the single largest upside supply risk for the oil market,”  Oil prices dropped earlier this week after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies, a group known as OPEC+, agreed to gradually ease oil output cuts from May.

Oil flat as weaker dollar offsets coronavirus demand worries (Reuters) -Oil prices were little changed on Thursday as a falling dollar and rising stock markets offset earlier declines caused by a big increase in U.S. gasoline stockpiles and subdued demand compared with pre-pandemic levels. Brent futures rose 4 cents, or 0.1%, to settle at $63.20 a barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude ended 17 cents, or 0.3%, lower at $59.60. “Crude prices are struggling for direction as short-term COVID pressures are countered by a much weaker U.S. dollar,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA in New York. The U.S. dollar fell to a two-week low against a basket of currencies, tracking Treasury yields lower, after data showed a surprise rise in U.S. weekly jobless claims. U.S. gasoline inventories rose sharply by 4 million barrels to a little more than 230 million barrels as refiners ramped up output before the summer driving season, the U.S. Department of Energy said on Wednesday. “A huge build in road fuel stocks is not what the market was expecting and concerns over the speed of the oil demand recovery resurfaced, leaving traders wondering how stable road fuel usage actually is,”.

Oil edges lower on mixed supply and demand outlook  - Oil prices edged lower in rangebound trade on Friday on rising supplies from major producers and concerns over a mixed picture on the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on fuel demand. Brent crude futures for June fell 16 cents, or 0.3%, to $63.04 a barrel by 1:38 p.m. EDT (1738 GMT). U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for May was at $59.38, down 22 cents. Both contracts are on track for a 2%-3% drop this week but still far from a low of $60.47 hit two weeks ago. Downward pressure has been exerted by the decision of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies, known as OPEC+, to increase supplies by 2 million barrels per day between May and July. “Favorable oil demand prospects are being largely offset by the expected increase in OPEC + production that could be approximating 2 million barrels per day by the end of July,” Meanwhile U.S. drillers kept the number of oil rigs unchanged this week, energy services firm Baker Hughes Co said on Friday, with analysts forecasting more rigs were needed to keep production steady. Renewed lockdowns in some parts of the world and problems with vaccination programs could threaten the oil demand picture. Oil prices are expected to trade in a range between $60 and $70 as investors weigh these factors. “There’s real push-pull in the market based on vaccination acceleration, increased production and new lockdowns, which is why we are moving sideways,” 

Oil Futures Show Biggest Loss in Weeks - -- Oil posted its worst week in three amid concerns that rising global coronavirus cases are slowing the economic recovery. West Texas Intermediate futures ended the week down 3.5%, the biggest weekly loss since mid-March. With the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies planning to start raising output, markets are now focused on whether the demand recovery will be enough to absorb growing supplies. While consumption is climbing in India and the U.S., rising virus cases and the possibility of stricter travel limits in Europe are muddying the forecast and putting pressure on crude. Oil plunged Monday after the U.K. said it may delay global travel beyond May 17. “The Covid situation has really not had a strong recovery in Europe and across many emerging markets, and that’s really weighed down the demand outlook for oil,” A stronger dollar also weighed on oil Friday, reducing the appeal of commodities priced in the currency. A higher-than-expected rise in U.S. March producer prices stoked inflation concerns. “If we get some hotter inflation readings, that could send Treasury yields higher again,” negatively impacting oil, according to Moya. Saudi Arabia said it remains confident that OPEC+ made the right decision to increase production over the next three months, and there are signs of better days ahead for demand that could soak up the additional barrels. India’s oil-products demand in March rose to the strongest since late 2019, while Germany reiterated support for a short, strict lockdown in the country. In the U.S., traffic is roaring back in some cities, an indication of stronger demand this summer. Making the calculation even more complex are ongoing talks between Iran and world powers to resuscitate a 2015 nuclear deal, which would set the stage for the Persian Gulf to increase supply. Negotiations are set to continue next week, though no direct contacts between Iranian and U.S. envoys have yet been made. WTI for May delivery fell 28 cents to settle at $59.32 a barrel. Brent for June declined 25 cents to end the session at $62.95 a barrel. The contract fell 2.9% over the week. Crude in New York has around $60 a barrel since mid-March, with market volatility slumping to the lowest in a month. Prices haven’t broken out of a $5 trading range over recent weeks, and have oscillated in smaller and smaller bands with each passing day -- creating a technical pattern some see as indicative of a breakout higher.

 Israel escalates attacks on Iran, targeting vessel in Red Sea - In a deliberate and provocative escalation of its offensive against Iran, Israel mined the cargo ship MV Saviz, owned by the state-linked Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, in the Red Sea on Tuesday morning. It signals Israel’s determination to continue its naval offensive against Iran, despite potential reprisals from Tehran and the danger of an escalation into all-out war, as the major powers meet with Iran in Vienna to discuss a return to the 2015 nuclear accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), unilaterally abandoned by former President Trump. The New York Times cited an unnamed American official as saying that Israel had informed the US that its navy had attacked the vessel near the Djibouti coast, claiming the attack was in retaliation for earlier Iranian strikes on Israeli vessels. According to Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh, Tuesday’s explosion, caused by “limpet mines attached to the hull of the ship, resulted in only minor damage.” He added that the Saviz was a “non-military ship” helping to “provide security along shipping lines and combat pirates” in the Red Sea and the Bab el-Mandeb strait, a crucial chokepoint in international shipping. US and Saudi analysts claim the vessel, present in the Red Sea since late 2016, is a “mothership” for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ flotilla of ships in the Red Sea and that uniformed men and a class of small boats used by the Guards have been photographed on board the ship’s deck. It is believed to play a crucial role in Tehran’s efforts to evade sanctions by transferring oil shipments midsea to non-Iranian flagged vessels. The Israeli attack is part of its long-running, covert offensive by its naval, air, security and intelligence forces against Iran. A report in Ha’aretz puts the number of Iranian tankers sabotaged at around 20, with an estimated loss to Al Quds, Hezbollah and the Shi’ite militias of $500,000 over two and a half years. These attacks, which damaged but deliberately avoided sinking the vessels, were for the dual purpose of disrupting Iran’s supply of oil to Syria and choking off the revenue stream that paid the Shi’ite militias and Hezbollah supporting the Syrian regime forces. The newspaper also confirmed earlier Syrian and Iranian claims about an explosion on an Iranian tanker in the Red Sea in late 2019. Such military attacks on civilian vessels in international waters are flagrant breaches of international law, potentially exposing Israel to international court actions. By escalating the dangers to shipping, they could also lead to an increase in insurance premiums for maritime commerce in the region.

Pentagon Publishes Photos Of Syrian Kurds Training To Call In Airstrikes - Last month, US Air Force Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) trained members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) during live-fire attack helicopter exercises. JTACs direct military aircraft during combat and pictures published on a Pentagon website show the JTACs training SDF members to call in airstrikes, which appears the first time the US is giving non-state actors such training, at least publicly.  According to a report from Air Force Times, the pictures might be the first time JTAC training with the SDF is publicized, but the training is nothing new. SDF fighters have had the ability to call in US airstrikes for years now.The report said the SDF fighters were not trained to be JTACs themselves but relayed coordinates to US JTACs who would then order the airstrikes. During the campaign against ISIS in the Syrian city of Raqqa, which was decimated by US bombs in 2017, some SDF members were given an app for their tablets that they could put GPS coordinates into, which they would share with JTACs through encrypted messaging. The Biden administration has made it clear it will continue occupying northeast Syria and supporting the SDF. While this support is framed as part of the fight against ISIS, it is more about keeping the oil resources in the region out of the hands of the Syrian government in Damascus.On top of the occupation of the oil fields, the US maintains crippling economic sanctions on Syria that specifically target reconstruction, preventing Syria from rebuilding after a decade of war.Meanwhile, Syria's army recently published combat training footage of its own:The sanctions have had a devastating impact on the civilian population. According to the UN, 12.4 million Syrians are facing starvation.

 Washington brings Syria’s Al Qaeda in from the cold - Ten years after Washington launched a bloody war for regime change in Syria that has left some half a million dead and the country in ruins, the US media has begun an unmistakable propaganda campaign to rehabilitate the principal American proxy ground force in this war, Al Qaeda. This is the significance of an extraordinary interview conducted by the Public Broadcasting Service’s (PBS) Frontline program. Its subject is Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, the founder of the Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda. The US State Department has declared Jolani a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist,” with a $10 million bounty on his head. The interview, to be aired soon on PBS, was conducted in February in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, the last redoubt of the Al Qaeda-linked Islamist militias that formed the backbone of the war to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad. This war was justified in the name of “democracy” and “human rights,” and supported by layers of the pseudo left internationally, who went so far as to proclaim it a “revolution.” In reality, it was orchestrated, armed and funded by the US, together with its regional allies Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Israel. It grew to become one of the largest operations in the history of the CIA, with a reported annual budget of nearly $1 billion. Washington kept up the pretense that its arms and money were flowing to “vetted” and “moderate” Syrian “rebels.” In reality, it was the militias linked to Al Qaeda, which included Islamist fighters from Turkey, Iraq, Libya and as far away as Chechnya and China’s Xinjiang region, that dominated the anti-Assad forces and became the biggest beneficiaries of US largesse. Jolani led the largest of these forces, the Al Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate. In April 2013, he released a recorded message stating, “The sons of Al Nusra Front pledge allegiance to Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri,” successor to Osama bin Laden as leader of Al Qaeda, following the latter’s death in 2011. At the time, Jolani was working in close collaboration with ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He severed Al Nusra’s formal connection to Al Qaeda in 2016. The interview conducted by Frontline’s Martin Smith is essentially a “media show”—Smith’s own words—staged to whitewash the bloody history of the Al Nusra Front’s terrorism in Syria and provide Jolani with a forum for proclaiming the front’s current iteration, Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), a legitimate political force and natural ally of Washington. The terrorist designation attached to himself and his organization was “unfair” and “political,” Jolani said. Smith asked Jolani to take a pledge: “Will you say here and now then, very clearly, that you as a former Al Qaeda leader … will not support … any attacks against the United States?” The Al Qaeda veteran readily accepted.

Jordan prince told to stop “destabilising activities” after more than a dozen arrests -In an unprecedented move, Jordan’s foreign minister Ayman Safadi has accused Prince Hamza, the former crown prince and half-brother of King Abdullah, of plotting with foreign and local parties to destabilise the country.The details are far from clear as the Jordanian authorities have released little information. Hamza is believed to be under house arrest, although officials deny this, while 14 to 16 former insiders have been arrested. According to the government-controlled Petra News Agency, all who were “arrested, among others, for security reasons” were unnamed except for Sharif Hassan bin Zaid and Bassem Awadallah.Hamza, the 40-year-old son of the late King Hussein and his fourth wife Noor, attended an elite school in Britain before going on for military training at Sandhurst. Designated Abdullah’s successor until 2004, and then largely sidelined, Hamza has caused tensions within the palace by forging links with disaffected members of Jordan’s powerful tribes, the East Bankers, who form the bedrock of support for the monarchy and feel marginalised by the presence of the West Bankers, the Palestinians displaced by Israel in the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948-49 and 1967.On Saturday afternoon, after the Jordanian Armed Forces chief of staff visited Hamza at his home to give him an official warning to stop his “destabilising activities,” the BBC published a video of Hamza, passed on by his lawyer, in which he denied being part of any “conspiracy or nefarious organisation or foreign-backed group.”In the video, Hamza claimed he had been placed under house arrest, with his telephone and internet connections cut, as part of a crackdown on critics. He lambasted the ruling elite in very general terms for its rampant corruption and nepotism, the outlawing of opposition and dissent, including any criticism of the king, and the all-pervasive security and intelligence services, all of which is common currency. On Monday evening, Hamza signed a letter of loyalty to Abdullah, following a meeting with Prince Hassan, the king's uncle, and other princes, just hours after saying he would disobey orders by the army not communicate with the outside world after he was put under house arrest.

Former Jordanian crown prince under house arrest for alleged attempted coup - Former Jordanian Crown Prince Hamzah bin Hussein was put under house arrest early Saturday after allegedly plotting a coup against his half brother King Abdullah, sources familiar with the situation tell Axios.Jordanian security forces arrested more than 20 former Jordanian officials, including former chief of the royal court Bassem Awadallah, Prince Hamza’s chief of staff Yasser Majali and former Jordanian envoy to Saudi Arabia Hassan Bin Zayed.A security official told the official Jordanian news agency Petra that all suspects other than the crown prince had been under surveillance for some time and were arrested on security charges. Petra denied that Hamza was under house arrest or arrested. The Washington Post first reported about the former crown prince arrest. In a video published by the BBC, Prince Hamza said the chief of the general staff of the Jordanian Army arrived at his house Saturday morning and informed him he was not permitted to leave or communicate with others because in meetings he was present for and social media posts he was mentioned in there was criticism of the king and the government."I asked him if I was the one criticizing and he said 'no,'" Hamza said. "He said this was a warning from him, from the chief of police and from the head of intelligence that I should not leave my house, that I could not tweet or meet my family." He added that several of his friends had been arrested, his security removed and his phone lines cut. He said his internet connection is going to be disabled and he might not be able to communicate further. "I am not the person in charge of the corruption and incompetence in our government," Hamza said in the video. "I am not responsible for the lack of faith of people in the government."  Hamza denied he was behind any conspiracy or that he was backed by any foreign element. He said the government was lying and stressed he was suffering retaliation by the government because of his criticism.

US Special Forces sent into Mozambique amid growing civil war -  Amid an escalating armed conflict in Mozambique, the Pentagon has sent US Special Operations troops into the southern African nation. The deployment of these troops, described as “trainers” and “advisers,” and justified in the name of the endless “war on terrorism,” provides fresh confirmation of the Biden administration’s global escalation of US militarism, including on the continent of Africa.Announced in the middle of last month, the US deployment has come amid a sharp escalation in the civil war being fought in Mozambique’s northern-most province of Cabo Delgado, where the Mozambican government is confronting an insurgency among that region’s predominantly Muslim population.The latest fighting has centered in the town of Palma, a hub for the exploitation of the country’s natural gas fields, which was seized by the rebels at the end of last month, sending an estimated 11,000 people fleeing to the port city of Pemba on the Indian Ocean. According to the United Nations, some 670,000 have been displaced since fighting began in the region in 2017.Commander Chongo Vidigal, the chief of the government forces sent to retake Palma from the rebels told the media Sunday that the area was now “safe.” An earlier attempt to bring reporters to the scene, however, was aborted after the helicopter flying them to the town came under fire. The main objective of the military operation was to secure the site of a $60 billion liquefied natural gas project initiated by the French energy giant Total, which has demanded a 15-mile secure perimeter as a condition for its continued presence. Having resumed operations only on March 24 after shutting down its facilities following an earlier rebel offensive at the beginning of the year, Total has shut down again, pulling all of its employees out of the region. In addition to the French-based energy transnational, Italy’s ENI and the US-based ExxonMobil also have interests in Mozambique’s natural gas reserves, believed to be among the largest on the planet.

UN condemns French airstrike on wedding in Mali that slaughtered 22 -- In a report made public last week, the United Nations has revealed that the French military launched an airstrike on a wedding ceremony in Mali at the beginning of the year, slaughtering at least 22 people. The airstrike took place at 3:00 p.m. on January 3, near the town of Bounty in the center of the country. According to the report by the United Nations Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), the religious ceremony for the marriage had taken place the evening before in Gana, approximately seven kilometers away. The following morning, approximately 100 people came from their homes in Bounty and smaller surrounding settlements to celebrate the marriage. As is normal in the local custom, the men were gathered in a separate area from the women and children. The French airstrike hit the gathering of men, killing 22. Little has been publicly reported about the victims, except that they were aged between 23 and 71. The report states that 19 of the victims were civilians, and three were members of an armed Islamist group named Katiba Serma. However, it makes clear that there is no evidence that any of them were involved in any ongoing military operations against French armed forces and were therefore also protected under international law. The MINUSMA report is the product of a weeks long investigation on the ground by a team of 19 UN staff, including two police science investigators. From January 4 to February 20, they traveled to the towns of Bamako, Sévaré, Douentza and Bounty. They conducted interviews with more than 115 people individually and another 200 people in groups, including family members of the victims, witnesses, and representatives of local community associations and medical responders. Their report exposes the lies of the French army and the Macron government following the attack. Immediately after the airstrike, the Macron government insisted that it had hit a gathering of 30 members of an “armed terrorist group.” On January 20, Minister for the Armed Forces Florence Parly was questioned about the attack during a hearing before the Senate Commission for Foreign Affairs. Parly called reports of an attack on civilians as an example of “information warfare” and “rumours” being used to discredit the French occupation of the Sahel.

US Sails Carrier Into South China Sea As Philippines Enraged Over China 'Territory Grab' --In the latest dispute over territory in the South China Sea, the Philippine government is denouncing Beijing for sending a "maritime militia" near the contested Whitsun Reef (alternately spelled Whitson Reef). China has responded by saying the ships are merely civilian fishing vessels, but the bellicose rhetoric has only grown between the two sides in the past days. And now amid the ratcheting tensions American warships led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt carrier have entered the waters. The US aircraft carrier strike group reportedly entered the region starting Sunday, according to the South China Sea Probing Initiative (SCSPI).Perhaps feeling further emboldened by the US strike group's presence, the Rodrigo Duterte government is livid, denouncing the Chinese vessels' presence using "the strongest words yet" according to Reuters:In some of the strongest words yet from Duterte’s camp about China’s conduct in the South China Sea, his lawyer Salvador Panelo called the prolonged presence of boats an unwelcome stain on relations that risked"unwanted hostilities that both countries would rather not pursue"."We can negotiate on matters of mutual concern and benefit, but make no mistake about it - our sovereignty is non-negotiable," Panelo said in a statement.Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque echoed the view and told a news conference: "We will not give up even a single inch of our national territory or our exclusive economic zone (EEZ)." Whitsun Reef lies some 175 miles west of the Philippine province of Palawan... Manilla believes China is using a massive presence of over 200 vessels to effectively establish control over the area as we previously described last month.Last month the Phillippines lodged a diplomatic protest over what it charged is a "swarming and threatening" presence of Chinese vessels.The United States in the meantime has vocally supported The Philippines' version of events - hence the latest carrier presence to "warn off" the Chinese.

S.Korea orders closure of nightclubs, karaoke bars amid concern over 4th COVID-19 wave (Reuters) - South Korea will reimpose a ban on nightclubs, karaoke bars and other nightly entertainment facilities, authorities said on Friday, after the number of new coronavirus cases surged, fanning fears over a potential fourth wave of outbreaks. Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun announced the curbs, which take effect on Monday for three weeks, after daily new case counts climbed to a three-month high in recent days. The current 10 p.m. dining curfew and ban on gatherings of more than four people will be maintained, he said. "Signs of a fourth wave of epidemics that we had so striven to head off are drawing nearer and becoming stronger," Chung told a daily meeting on the pandemic. "We will maintain the current distancing level, but actively reinforce various specific measures depending on the situation." The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 671 new cases for Thursday, a day after the daily tally hit the highest level since early January, with clusters developing from churches, bars and gyms, mostly in the greater Seoul area.

Why India is Banking on Health Diplomacy to Grow African Footprint - India has stepped up its global ambitions and foreign policy re-engagement with African countries in recent years. Its bilateral trade increased from $7.2 billion in 2001 to $63 billion in 2017/18. India is now the third largest export destination and the fifth largest investor on the continent. While it plays catch-up with China’s commanding presence in Africa, India has signed numerous new bilateral agreements. It has also strengthened its diplomatic presence and is actively furthering trade, infrastructure and private sector investments. In our research under a multi-year project, we found that New Delhi promotes an alternative model of development. It showcases the successes of its Green Revolution and advances in information, communication and technology. But it also highlights its ability to develop “Triple A” technology – affordable, appropriate, adaptable.  India’s expertise in affordable healthcare has assumed increased significance during the ongoing pandemic. New Delhi is already reaping the benefits of an ambitious diplomatic initiative to deliver Made-in-India vaccines to developing countries. India is one the largest producers of drugs globally. It manufactures 60% of the world’s vaccines. Many African countries have purchased or received these as gifts. New Delhi’s capacity and willingness to produce and share COVID-19 vaccines have further boosted the country’s diplomatic heft and recognition as a global power. India’s push for South-South cooperation relies on three broad elements. The first is a shared identity as part of the “Third World”. Second is expertise in cost-effective development technologies. Third is a recurrent articulation of the principles of mutual respect and solidarity.Its long history of being democratic and its successes in reducing poverty and preventing famineshave also bolstered the legitimacy of its developmental approach in the Global South. Since 2018, the India-Africa partnership has been based on a set of principles. These have emphasised “local priorities”. They call for joint efforts to reform global institutions, combat climate change and fight global terrorism. They also highlight capacity building for agriculture, education, digital technology and cooperation on peacekeeping and maritime issues.How and to what extent might Africa benefit from India’s growing interest? We identify three broad sets of health-related opportunities and benefits that may shape the future of India-Africa relations.

 Australian richest billionaires double their wealth during COVID-19 crisis - The global coronavirus pandemic has triggered the greatest public health and economic catastrophe since World War II and is being used in every country, including Australia, as the pretext for far deeper attacks on workers’ jobs, wages and conditions. Yet the super-rich have prospered like never before. The Australian last month released The List, a glossy magazine insert glorifying the fact that the wealth of Australia’s richest 250 people has soared on the back of the crisis. The Murdoch publication declared: “[T]he biggest names in Australian business thrived during the pandemic.” Together, the top 250 have a combined wealth of $470 billion, up from $377 billion last year, which was almost double the increase from 2019 to 2020. The cut-off wealth for The List is $450 million, whereas last year it was $402 million. The number of billionaires grew to 122, with an average worth of $1.88 billion. The expansion of their fortunes far exceeds that during the 2008-09 global financial crisis, after which the number of billionaires increased from 30 to 35. The greatest increases in wealth were among those in iron ore mining, cardboard box making, food deliveries and tech companies—all of which have profited from COVID-19. The two richest on the list were iron ore magnates Gina Rinehart and Andrew Forrest, who both more than doubled their wealth in one year, almost totally thanks to soaring prices and exports to China. Rinehart increased her wealth by $20 billion, bringing her estimated fortune to $36.28 billion, up from $16.25 billion last year. Her company, Hancock Prospecting, recorded one of the biggest profits for a private company in Australian corporate history, with a $4 billion net profit for the 2020 financial year—50 percent more than it made the previous year. Forrest, chair of Fortescue Metals Group, similarly doubled his wealth from $13.6 billion last year to $29.61 billion. There are 28 technology entrepreneurs on the list this year, up from 19 last year, benefitting from soaring share market valuations of the sector as a result of the pandemic. Mike Cannon-Brookes and Andrew Farquhar of software company Atlassian, made third and fourth on the list, respectively. Speculative investors drove up the price of the US Nasdaq-listed shares of Atlassian by nearly 50 percent in 2020.

New Zealand suspends entry for travelers from India due to high COVID-19 cases (Reuters) - New Zealand on Thursday temporarily suspended entry for all travellers from India, including its own citizens, for about two weeks following a high number of positive coronavirus cases arriving from the South Asian country. The move comes after New Zealand recorded 23 new positive coronavirus cases at its border on Thursday, of which 17 were from India. “We are temporarily suspending entry into New Zealand for travellers from India,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a news conference in Auckland. India has recorded 12.8 million COVID-19 cases, the most after the United States and Brazil. It is now battling a deadly second wave of infections, and this week the number of daily new cases passed the peak of the first wave seen last September. The suspension will start from 1600 local time on April 11 and will be in place until April 28. During this time the government will look at risk management measures to resume travel.

WHO does not support mandatory 'vaccine passports' - The World Health Organization (WHO) does not currently support the use of "vaccine passports" for travel because of concerns of equity, an agency official said Tuesday. Mike Ryan, the executive director of the WHO's emergencies program, said he's concerned such a requirement could exacerbate vaccine equity issues. He told reporters that the WHO supports vaccine certificates as a way to provide a health record for people who have been vaccinated, but the issue takes on a different consideration if certificates are used to attend work, school or to travel. Ryan said until more countries have equal access to vaccines, it wouldn't be ethical to require proof of vaccination for travel. "We already have a huge issue of vaccine equity in the world. The imposition of requirements for certification of vaccination before travel could introduce another layer of such inequity," Ryan said during a press briefing. "If you don't have access to vaccine in a country, you become isolated as a country as vaccine passports kick in." Ryan also noted there are still lingering questions around whether vaccines can prevent the coronavirus from being transmitted. He said agency working groups are continuing to discuss the matter, and the recommendation may be revisited. Ryan's comments echoed those made by a WHO spokeswoman earlier Tuesday. According to Reuters, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris also said the agency does not back vaccine passports for travel. "We as WHO are saying at this stage we would not like to see the vaccination passport as a requirement for entry or exit because we are not certain at this stage that the vaccine prevents transmission,” she said.

 Bolsonaro a 'Threat to the Planet,' Says Lula as Brazil's Daily Covid Death Toll Hits All-Time High - Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on Wednesday called far-right President Jair Bolsonaro a grave "threat to the planet" after the nation's daily Covid-19 death toll topped 4,000 for the first time since the pandemic began last year, a sign that the public health crisis is worsening as Bolsonaro continues to downplay the virus andundercut potential solutions. At least 4,195 Brazilians died of the coronavirus on Tuesday and nearly 87,000 new infections were reported as the South American country's treatment facilities were "stretched to breaking point" by the rapidly spreading virus.  "It's a nuclear reactor that has set off a chain reaction and is out of control," Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian doctor and professor at Duke University in the United States, told The Guardian of the worsening Covid-19 crisis in Brazil, which has the second-highest Covid-19 death toll in the world behind the U.S."It's a biological Fukushima," said Nicolelis.  With deaths and cases surging, Bolsonaro has persistently refused to consider implementing public safety measures to slow the spread and remained committed to dismissing the severity of the pandemic, which he has previouslycharacterized as a media creation.In an open letter published Wednesday, Lula—who is expected to mount another presidential bid—wrote that "unfortunately, our country is today considered a global threat, due to the uncontrolled circulation of the virus and the emergence of new mutations.""It must be said that this threat to the planet has a name and a surname: Jair Bolsonaro, a president of the republic who systematically denies science and who ignores the suffering of the people he has sworn to defend," Lula continued.The former president went on to stress the need for equitable and swift global distribution of the coronavirus vaccine, echoing scientists' warnings that leaving much of the world unprotected dramatically increases the risk of vaccine-resistant mutations emerging and spreading around the world, rendering first-generation vaccines ineffective."We cannot consider living in a world where part of the planet is vaccinated and part abandoned and isolated to be a free field for mutations of the virus," Lula wrote. "The epicenter of the pandemic cannot be Europe yesterday, today Brazil, tomorrow Africa, with new variants restarting the cycle of death and sadness around the world."But "instead of defending immunizations as a public good for humanity," said Lula, the Bolsonaro government "advocates the private commercialization of vaccines and their concentration in a few companies and countries."As The Intercept reported Wednesday, Bolsonaro has repeatedly undermined Brazil's public vaccination system—widely considered one of the best in the world prior to the Covid-19 crisis—and is currently supporting an effort by right-wing lawmakers to "allow corporations to directly purchase vaccine doses from international suppliers and give them to employees, even before priority groups like the elderly and medical workers are fully vaccinated."

 IMF upgrades forecast for 2021 global growth to a record 6% -  (AP) — The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines and vast sums of government aid will accelerate global economic growth to a record high this year in a powerful rebound from the pandemic recession, the International Monetary Fund says in its latest forecast. The 190-country lending agency said Tuesday that it expects the world economy to expand 6% in 2021, up from the 5.5% it had forecast in January. It would be the fastest expansion for the global economy in IMF records dating back to 1980. In 2022, the IMF predicts, international economic growth will decelerate to a still strong 4.4%, up from its January forecast of 4.2%. “A way out of this health and economic crisis is increasingly visible,” IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath told reporters. The agency’s economists now estimate that the global economy shrank 3.3% in 2020 after the devastating recession that followed the coronavirus’ eruption across the world early last spring. That is the worst annual figure in the IMF’s database, though not as severe as the 3.5% drop it had estimated three months ago. Without $16 trillion in global government aid that helped sustain companies and consumers during COVID-19 lockdowns, IMF forecasters say, last year’s downturn could have been three times worse. The U.S. economy, the world’s biggest, is now forecast to expand 6.4% in 2021 — its fastest growth since 1984 — and 3.5% in 2022. The U.S. growth is being supported by President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package, while an acceleration in the administering of vaccines is beginning to let Americans return to restaurants, bars, shops and airports in larger numbers. The world’s second-largest economy, China, which imposed a draconian COVID-19 clampdown a year ago and got a head start on an economic recovery, will record 8.4% growth this year and 5.6% in 2022, the IMF estimates. The monetary fund expects the 19 countries that share the euro currency to collectively expand 4.4% this year and 3.8% in 2022. Japan is expected to register 3.3% growth this year and 2.5% next year. Gopinath warned that the economic recovery is likely to be uneven. The rebound is expected to be slower in poor countries that can’t afford massive government stimulus and in those dependent on tourism. Economic damage from the health crisis is “reversing gains in poverty reduction″ and last year increased the ranks of extreme poor by 95 million compared with pre-pandemic projections. She also predicted that “many of the jobs lost are unlikely to return″ — because of trends accelerated by the pandemic, such as stepped-up automation and a shift toward e-commerce and away from brick-and-mortar stores. A faster recovery in the United States means U.S. interest rates could rise “in unexpected ways,″ rattling financial markets and pulling investment out of hard-hit, debt-ridden emerging markets. In the IMF’s estimation, the global rebound will gradually lose momentum and return to pre-COVID levels of just above 3% growth. ‘

Italy Bans Cruise Ships from Entering Venice’s Historic Center - Italian ministers last week approved a ban on cruise ships entering Venice’s Giudecca Canal This measure was enacted in response to a request from UNESCO, and also applies to large container ships, according to the BBC. Coronavirus has for the moment called a halt to most global cruise ship traffic. But that can be expected to start again once the pandemic is under control. Does last week’s action mean Venice has conquered its addiction to the cruise ship form of mass tourism? Alas, that’s not to be so. Passengers will still be able to visit La Serenissima, in still excessive numbers, but henceforth, cruise ships must tie up at Marghera, the industrial hub, across the ecologically fragile lagoon. Even that solution is temporary, until a permanent solution is found – something Venice has been searching for since at least 2013, when a ban on vessels weighing more than 96,000 tonnes from entering the Giudecca Canal was first imposed – and then subsequently overturned – according to the BBC. According to the NYT: Citing the need to protect the “artistic, cultural and environmental heritage of Venice,” the Italian cabinet passed a decree late Wednesday calling for “urgent provisions” to detour cruise activities and freight traffic. The government mandated that Venice’s port authority issue a public consultation — described as a “call for ideas” — to find alternative ports to handle large container ships and cruise ships over 40,000 tons and planned to build a terminal outside the lagoon. Dario Franceschini, Italy’s culture minister, praised the decision on Thursday, citing the shock of visitors to Venice upon seeing cruise ships “hundreds of meters long and as tall as apartment buildings,” passing in front of St. Mark’s Square. He said the government’s decision had been influenced by UNESCO, the cultural protection agency of the United Nations, which had long called on Italy to reconcile the balancing of lagoon preservation with the economics of cruise and freight activity.

School strikes erupt throughout the UK - Strikes have erupted in the education sector across the UK alongside other disputes in the public sector, transport, health and energy. These strikes express an initial yet significant growth in the class struggle. Employers have used the pandemic as a pretext for ramped-up exploitation of their workers. The crocodile tears over “disadvantaged children” and “lost learning” have been used as an ideological weapon to force children back into school so that their parents can return to work and produce profits. For educators, the “return to school” has been a return to cuts, job losses and the victimisation and harassment of those who oppose Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government agenda. The education unions have played a key role throughout the pandemic in suppressing opposition to unsafe workplaces, opposing the campaigns led by educators for the closure of schools. They supported the “big bang” reopening of schools in March, despite the high levels of infection and lack of safety protection for staff and children. The unions in every sector continue to play a criminal role in policing opposition to the cuts to jobs and services, being escalated as the economic impact of the pandemic and massive corporate bailouts is placed on the shoulders of the working class. They have suppressed industrial action throughout the last year in the name of “national unity”, allowing big business and the Conservative government to launch an assault on jobs, wages and conditions. Lecturers at 26 further education colleges across Scotland began a two-day strike last Wednesday, following a one-day strike the previous week. Called by the Educational Institute of Scotland Further Education Lecturers’ Association (EIS-FELA), its members are protesting plans by Colleges Scotland to replace lecturer posts with lower-paid instructor posts. Further strikes are planned. A one-day strike involving all six further education colleges in Northern Ireland took place March 24, called by the University and College Union (UCU) in a pay and workload dispute. Many more actions are being kept isolated to individual schools to prevent a unified campaign across the education sector. Since February, there have been the following strikes in colleges and secondary, primary and special schools:

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