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

Saturday, April 3, 2021

week ending Apr 3

QE During the “Everything Mania”: Fed’s Assets at $7.7 Trillion, Up $3.5 Trillion in 13 months –(graphs) The Fed has shut down or put on ice nearly the entire alphabet soup of bailout programs designed to prop up the markets during their tantrum a year ago, including the Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) that bought corporate bonds, corporate bond ETFs, commercial mortgage-backed securities, asset-backed securities, municipal bonds, etc. Its repos faded into nothing last summer. And foreign central bank dollar swaps have nearly zeroed out.  What the Fed is still buying are large amounts of Treasury securities and residential MBS, though no one can figure out why the Fed is still buying them, given the crazy Everything Mania in the markets.  But for the week, total assets on the Fed’s weekly balance sheet through Wednesday, March 31, fell by $31 billion from the record level in the prior week, to $7.69 trillion. Over the past 13 months of this miracle money-printing show, the Fed has added $3.5 trillion in assets to its balance sheet:  One of the purposes of QE is to force down long-term interest rates and long-term mortgage rates. But long-term Treasury yields started rising last summer. The 10-year Treasury has more than tripled since then and closed today at 1.72%. Mortgage rates started rising in early January. Bond prices fall as yields rise, and the crybabies on Wall Street want the Fed to do something about those rising long-term yields and the bloodbath they have created in the prices of long-term Treasury securities and high-grade corporate bonds. But instead, the Fed has said in monotonous uniformity that rising long-term yields despite $120 billion of QE a month are a welcome sign of rising inflation expectations and a growing economy:  To put that $30 billion dip this week into perspective, here is the detailed view of the Fed’s total assets since early 2020: After the initial blast a year ago, the Fed has continued to add around $80 billion a month in Treasury securities to its balance sheet, bringing the 13-month total addition to $2.47 trillion, which more than doubled its Treasury holdings over the period to $4.94 trillion:  Holders of mortgage-backed securities receive pass-through principal payments as the underlying mortgages are paid down or are paid off. The Fed buys MBS in the “To Be Announced” (TBA) market to replace the pass-through principal payments and to increase its balance. But trades in the TBA market take months to settle, and timing differences create the zig-zags. The pace of the increase of the balance has steepened a little this year as pass-through principal payments slowed down due to the slowdown in mortgage refis caused by rising mortgage rates.  This $2.18 trillion of MBS include the Fed’s purchases of commercial mortgage-backed securities, a program it announced during the crisis. It was going to be a huge program, according to media hoopla. But in effect, it purchased only $10 billion of CMBS, mostly during April and May last year. This program is now shut down, and the Fed has ceased buying CMBS as of last week. Principal payments that the Fed receives will reduce the balance going forward. The Fed continues to offer repos, but after it had raised the bid rate last June, making its repos unattractive, there have been no takers. The remaining repos matured and were unwound last summer: The Fed offered dollars to 14 other central banks in exchange for their currency. Nearly all these “central bank liquidity swaps” matured and were unwound. Just $2.5 billion remain, split between the ECB, the Swiss National Bank, and the Bank of Mexico – down from $450 billion during the peak:  The Fed created these Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) as legal entities that can buy assets that the Fed is not allowed to buy otherwise, such as corporate bonds, junk bonds, bond ETFs including junk bond ETFs, auto-loan backed securities, municipal bonds, corporate paper, etc. The Fed lent to the SPVs, and the Treasury Department provided equity funding that would take the first loss. These SPVs are now on ice and have expired with exception of the PPP liquidity facility (red), which the Fed extended for another three months through June. It buys PPP loans from banks and is the only SPV that is growing. All others are either frozen or declining:

Fed’s Waller says the central bank isn’t keeping rates low to finance government debt - The Federal Reserve is not keeping monetary policy easy to enable the government to rung up debts and deficits, Fed Governor Christopher Waller said Monday.Defending the Fed's independence from the fiscal authorities in Congress, Waller rejected notions that the central bank is holding borrowing costs low to help service the debt or that it is conducting asset purchases to finance the debt-laden federal government."My goal today is to definitively put that narrative to rest. It is simply wrong," Waller said in prepared remarks to the Peterson Institute for International Economics. "Monetary policy has not and will not be conducted for these purposes."As part of its Covid crisis response, the Fed cut short-term borrowing rates to near zero and has been buying at least $80 billion of Treasurys each month, along with $40 billion of mortgage-backed securities.At the same time, total government debt has soared by $4.5 trillion, or nearly 20%, since early March 2020, and the deficit for fiscal 2020 was more than $3.1 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office has projected the fiscal 2021 shortfall to be $2.3 trillion, and that doesn't include the nearly $1.9 trillion stimulus package approved recently. Fed critics say the central bank has been charged with keeping rates low so the government can continue borrowing. Though Fed officials have largely applauded the aggressive fiscal policy, Waller said monetary policy is not set with keeping borrowing costs low in mind.He further stressed the importance of Fed independence from Congress so monetary policy is not designed with political objectives in mind."There are sizable costs if cooperation turns into fiscal control," Waller said."The Congress was fully aware of the potential misuse of monetary policy for political reasons, and it purposefully created the Federal Reserve as an independent central bank," he added. "The design features of the Federal Reserve minimize political influence over monetary policy while still maintaining accountability to the Congress and to the electorate for its policy actions." Waller is the most recent addition to the board of governors, gaining confirmation in December after having been nominated by former President Donald Trump. These are his first public remarks.

 Podcast Rightsizing the Fed’s emergency lending powers - Below is a lightly edited transcript of the podcast:  “24 Min Read”

Fed officials on the fence about adopting digital US dollar - The Federal Reserve is continuing its research on the use of a central bank-issued digital currency (CBDC), but key officials are saying not to expect any Fed-issued digital dollars any time soon. “That fundamental question of, ‘what are we trying to do with this’ is not clearly answered,” Fed Governor Randal Quarles said in a webinar on Tuesday. The Fed is working with researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to build and test a digital dollar in different hypothetical use cases. But whether or not the Fed ultimately adopts one is a separate question. Although other central banks have communicated stronger interest in adopting digital versions of their currencies, Fed officials are cautioning that there are many risks associated with launching one. One issue is privacy. If the Fed uses a blockchain to manage the distribution of digital dollars, users may have concerns about the central bank being able to access and track individual spending data. Another issue is disrupting the banking system. If the Fed allowed users to pay for goods and services using a Fed-issued digital wallet, banks would be competing with the Fed itself for deposit funding. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has said he is open to a "two-tier" system where the private sector manages the wallet, not the Fed. There’s also the concern about whether or not the Fed has the legal authority to issue a digital dollar at all. Powell pledged that he would not launch one without explicit legislation from Congress authorizing the Fed to do so. “You can expect us to move with great care and transparency in considering a CBDC,” Powell said on March 22. Other central banks are moving faster on their own digital currencies, with the European Central Bank already telegraphing the possibility of launching one within four years. The Fed project is also several years behind the People’s Bank of China, which is already piloting its own digital yuan with users and merchants.

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 March 28th. The seven day average is down 42.6% from the same week in 2019 (57.4% of last year). 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 March 27, 2021. This data is "a sample of restaurants on the OpenTable network across all channels: online reservations, phone reservations, and walk-ins.  Dining picked up during the holidays, then slumped with the huge winter surge in cases.  Dining is picking up again - and is close to 2019 in Texas and Florida. This data shows domestic box office for each week and the median for the years 2016 through 2019 (dashed light blue).  The data is from BoxOfficeMojo through Mar 25th. Note that the data is usually noisy week-to-week and depends on when blockbusters are released.Movie ticket sales were at $22 million last week, down about 88% from the median for the week.This graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four week average. This data is through March 20th. Hotel occupancy is currently down 15.4% 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 be 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 19th, gasoline supplied was off about 5.6% (about 94.4% of the same week in 2019).  This graph is from Apple mobility. From Apple: "This data is generated by counting the number of requests made to Apple Maps for directions in select countries/regions, sub-regions, and cities." This is just a general guide - people that regularly commute probably don't ask for directions. There is also some great data on mobility from the Dallas Fed Mobility and Engagement Index. This data is through March 27th for the United States and several selected cities. The graph is the running 7 day average to remove the impact of weekends. According to the Apple data directions requests, public transit in the 7 day average for the US is at 62% of the January 2020 level. It is at 55% in Chicago, and 61% 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. 

 Business Cycle Indicators at the Beginning of April - Menzie Chinn - The Bloomberg consensus is for an increase of 674 thousand jobs in March. That’s heady news, offsetting the somewhat less upbeat news from the estimate of February monthly GDP released by IHS Markit today – a decrease of 0.9% after upward revision in January’s figure by 0.3% (not annualized). Even if expectations are met, employment will still be 5.8% below that recorded at  the NBER peak in February 2020. In the context of key macro indicators followed by the  NBER Business Cycle Dating Committee: Figure 1: Nonfarm payroll employment (dark blue), Bloomberg consensus as of 3/3 for February nonfarm payroll employment (light blue square), industrial production (red),  personal income excluding transfers in Ch.2012$ (green), manufacturing and trade sales in Ch.2012$ (black), consumption in Ch.2012$ (light blue), and monthly GDP in Ch.2012$ (pink), all log normalized to 2020M02=0. Source: BLS, Federal Reserve, BEA, via FRED, IHS Markit (nee Macroeconomic Advisers) (3/1/2021 release), NBER, and author’s calculations.  Atlanta Fed GDPNow (4/1) is for 6% in Q1; NY Fed (3/26) is at 6.1%. IHS Markit nowcast as of today is 5.2% (all figures SAAR).

Biden Unveils $2 Trillion Infrastructure Plan – WSJ —President Biden unveiled a $2 trillion infrastructure plan centered on fixing roads and bridges, expanding broadband internet access and boosting funding for research and development, plus higher corporate taxes to pay for the package.  “It’s not a plan that tinkers around the edges,” Mr. Biden said during a speech in Pittsburgh, where he kicked off his presidential campaign. “It’s a once-in-a-generation investment in America.”The Democratic president cast his plan as a fundamental shift in economic thought away from the small-government, tax-cutting approach embraced decades ago under Ronald Reagan, a Republican.  “Here’s the truth: We will all do better when we all do well,” Mr. Biden said, arguing that the pandemic had exposed longstanding inequalities in the country. “It’s time to build our economy from the bottom up and from the middle up, not the top down.”   He said his plan isn’t an attack on wealthy Americans. “This is not to target those who’ve made it, not to seek retribution,” he said. “This is about opening up opportunities for everybody else.”  The president’s advisers say the Covid-19 pandemic has helped change American attitudes about the role government should play in their lives, making political space for unprecedented investments that could reshape the country.  The measure, which comes after Mr. Biden signed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill into law, is the first of a two-part economic plan that he hopes to move through Congress in coming months. A second plan focused on child care, healthcare and education will be released in April. Combined, Mr. Biden’s economic proposals are expected to cost between $3 trillion and $4 trillion over a decade, according to people involved in the discussions. Mr. Biden’s infrastructure proposal faces hurdles, including GOP opposition to significant tax increases, disagreements among Democrats about how to pay for the package and progressives’ concerns that it isn’t ambitious enough. The White House said the proposal would cost roughly $2 trillion over eight years and be paid for over 15 years by raising the corporate tax rate to 28% from 21% and increasing taxes on companies’ foreign earnings. The tax changes would revamp or replace much of the international tax structure congressional Republicans established four years ago in the law signed by then-President Donald Trump. Mr. Biden’s proposal includes $621 billion to modernize transportation infrastructure, $400 billion to help care for the aging and those with disabilities, $300 billion to boost the manufacturing industry, $213 billion on retrofitting and building affordable housing and $100 billion to expand broadband access, among other investments. The plan, which requires congressional approval, calls for modernizing 20,000 miles of roadway; building 500,000 electric-vehicle charging stations; replacing the country’s existing lead pipes and service lines; repairing aging schools; expanding home care for the elderly and disabled; and investing billions of dollars in domestic semiconductor manufacturing. Mr. Biden also proposes mandating that more of the country’s electricity be generated from low-carbon sources, with a goal of eliminating carbon emissions from the power grid by 2035. Mr. Biden’s plan stresses equity in access to jobs and transportation options, including $20 billion for a new program that would reconnect neighborhoods cut off by past transportation investments as well as research funding for historically Black colleges and universities. The plan calls for a national climate-focused laboratory to be affiliated with an HBCU.

White House unveils $2 trillion infrastructure and climate plan, setting up giant battle over size and cost of government -- The White House’s unveiling of a $2 trillion jobs, infrastructure and green energy proposal to reshape the U.S. economy met a chorus of opposition late Wednesday, with Republicans panning it as a partisan wish-list, some liberals challenging it as not sufficient to combat climate change, and business groups rejecting its proposed tax hikes. Under what the administration calls the American Jobs Plan, Biden aims to tackle some of the nation’s most pressing problems — from climate change to decaying water systems to the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. The administration’s promises are vast and may prove difficult to enact, even if the effort can get through Democrats’ extremely narrow majority in Congress. The immediate rejection of the plan by leading Republicans suggested that the path toward a bipartisan compromise on infrastructure would be very difficult to achieve, leaving the White House’s next move unclear. The White House said the plan would enable drivers across the country to find electric charging stations for their vehicles on the road. Every lead pipe in the country would be replaced. All Americans would have access to high-speed Internet broadband by the end of the decade. As many as 2 million homes and housing units would be built, retrofitted or renovated. Biden released the spending plan with a slew of tax hikes on businesses that is likely to be the most contentious part of his proposal. The White House says the proposal would pay for itself over 15 years because many of the tax increases would remain even as the spending proposals only last for eight years. Legislation in Washington is typically evaluated on a 10-year budget window, and it is unclear precisely what the plan would cost over a decade. On the tax side, Biden’s plan includes raising the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent; increasing the global minimum tax paid from about 13 percent to 21 percent; ending federal tax breaks for fossil fuel companies; and ramping up tax enforcement against corporations, among other measures. The White House is also proposing as much as $400 billion in clean energy credits for firms, although the cost of the tax credit provisions is not detailed in what the administration has released. The tax measures help Biden address concerns that his spending package would add to an already large federal deficit, but provoked a torrent of opposition from GOP lawmakers and business groups. Congressional Republicans have also panned the tax increases as damaging to U.S. investment and competitiveness and have pledged to oppose them. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) denounced the measure. “There is virtually no path to getting Republican votes. It’s too big, too expensive, and chalked full of tax increases that are nonstarters among Republicans,” said Brian Riedl, a former aide to Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) now at the Manhattan Institute, a libertarian-leaning think-tank. Among Democrats, the plan has been met by objections from lawmakers in the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who say it is insufficient to meet the scale of the threat posed by climate change. Centrist Democrats are balking at another large spending package. Three House Democrats have already vowed to oppose the package because it does not reverse a cap on state and local tax deductions from Trump’s tax law.

Biden infrastructure plan includes corporate tax hike, transportation money - President Joe Biden unveiled a more than $2 trillion infrastructure package on Wednesday as his administration shifts its focus to bolstering the post-pandemic economy. The plan Biden outlined Wednesday includes roughly $2 trillion in spending over eight years and would raise the corporate tax rate to 28% to fund it. Speaking at a union hall in Pittsburgh, the president called it a vision to create "the strongest, most resilient, innovative economy in the world" — and millions of "good-paying jobs." The White House said the tax hike, combined with measures designed to stop offshoring of profits, would fund the infrastructure plan within 15 years.  The proposal would:

  • Put $621 billion into transportation infrastructure such as bridges, roads, public transit, ports, airports and electric vehicle development
  • Direct $400 billion to care for elderly and disabled Americans
  • Inject more than $300 billion into improving drinking-water infrastructure, expanding broadband access and upgrading electric grids
  • Put more than $300 billion into building and retrofitting affordable housing, along with constructing and upgrading schools
  • Invest $580 billion in American manufacturing, research and development and job training efforts

The announcement kicks off Biden's second major initiative after passage of a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan earlier this month. In the new move, the administration aims to approve a first proposal designed to create jobs, revamp U.S. infrastructure and fight climate change before it turns toward a second plan to improve education and expand paid leave and health-care coverage. Biden said he will unveil the second part of his recovery package "in a few weeks." "These are investments we have to make," Biden said of revamping U.S. infrastructure. "We can afford to make them. To put it another way — we can't afford not to." Among the administration's goals, it aims to revamp 20,000 miles of roads and highways and repair 10,000 bridges. The proposal calls to build a national network of 500,000 electric vehicle chargers by 2030 and replace 50,000 diesel public transit vehicles. The administration hopes to build or rehabilitate 500,000 homes for low- and middle-income Americans and replace all lead pipes in drinking-water systems. The plan also aims to deliver universal, affordable broadband service. The proposal also aims to ensure public transportation revitalization reaches communities of color harmed by past projects, such as highways built through neighborhoods. The administration also aims to focus efforts to make homes, schools, transportation and utility grids more resilient in marginalized communities more likely to bear the brunt of severe weather events. The White House plans to fund the spending by raising the corporate tax rate to 28%. Republicans slashed the levy to 21% from 35% as part of their 2017 tax law. The administration also wants to boost the global minimum tax for multinational corporations and ensure they pay at least 21% in taxes in any country. The White House also aims to discourage firms from listing tax havens as their address and writing off expenses related to offshoring, among other reforms.

Biden unveils infrastructure plan tied to corporate tax hike -  President Joe Biden unveiled a proposal for rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure of the United States, but the plan is longer on rhetoric than on actions on the scale required to rebuild and modernize roads, bridges, water systems, airports, schools, housing and other physical facilities, as well as the social infrastructure—education, health care, scientific research. In a speech at a carpenters’ union training center in Pittsburgh—a city that symbolizes the collapse of American industry, not its rejuvenation—Biden called his “American Jobs Plan” the largest public investment since World War II, and compared it to the building of the interstate highways in the 1950s and the space race of the 1960s. Biden speaks during at The Queen theater, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, in Wilmington, Del. [Credit: AP Photo/Matt Slocum] He offered no explanation of how American capitalism, after 40 years of stagnation and decay, most noticeable in its physical and social infrastructure, could suddenly summon the resources to revive systems that had been allowed to disintegrate, to the point where tens of thousands of bridges are in imminent danger of collapse. Biden said nothing about the responsibility of the American financial aristocracy, the Wall Street vampires who have sucked up the resources of the country, amassing fortunes on a scale that puts into shade all previous ruling elites in world history, while the country decayed around them. Instead he made a pledge of loyalty, declaring, “I have nothing against millionaires and billionaires. I believe in American capitalism.” While the top-line number of $2.25 trillion is constantly emphasized by the White House and its media supporters, since that might sound like a lot of money, spread out over eight or even ten years, it comes to less than $300 billion a year—about one-third of the Pentagon budget each year, and less than a quarter of the $1.3 trillion increase in the wealth of America’s billionaires in the course of the pandemic year. The four main categories of spending include $650 billion for transportation infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, highways and ports, including subsidies for public transit, Amtrak and freight rail; $300 billion for housing infrastructure, mainly for retrofitting and upgrading two million homes, and eliminating lead pipes and lead service lines in water systems; $300 billion to “revive US manufacturing” (i.e., various subsidies to favored industries); and $400 billion toward home care for the elderly and the disabled. The $650 billion over eight to ten years should be compared to the $2.6 trillion funding gap found by a report earlier this year from the American Society for Civil Engineers, which accounts for the disastrous condition of American roads, bridges, water systems, airports and other public facilities. Lesser sums include $100 billion for high-speed broadband across the entire country, $100 billion to upgrade and build new schools, and $100 billion to expand and improve power lines and the electric grid.  Another $180 billion is for expansion of research and development, particularly directed at competition with China in areas like semiconductors, batteries and computer technology. Much of the transportation money has a similar purpose. There is a combined total of $174 billion in spending to boost the electric vehicle market, including building 500,000 electric charging stations across the country, to “win the EV market,” a campaign directed at Europe and Japan as well, but above all against China.

Make the infrastructure bill tell us cost of each bridge, road, and train --Congress and the White House could soon finally agree to an infrastructure bill. If the federal government does indeed decide to spend almost one-tenth of the nation’s gross domestic product on infrastructure, the public should have one small request: tell us the costs.To the surprise of many — ourselves included — there is broad agreement that it costs much more to build infrastructure in the free market United States compared to union-heavy, regulation-saturated Europe. Anecdotal evidence demonstrates that the cost of infrastructure in the U.S. is high and growing. The Second Avenue subway in New York is infamous for its astronomical costs of $2.25 billion per mile. But more mundane examples are easy to find. For example, the first leg of Detroit’s I-696 highway cost $13 million per mile (in 2016 dollars) to build in 1964; the last leg in 1989 cost more than six times as much per mile.Our research finds that Detroit’s pattern is not atypical. In real dollars, it cost about three times as much to build a highway mile in the 1980s as it did in the 1960s. Related work by others finds that these increases have continued relatively unabated to the present day.The debate about the potential causes of these high and increasing costs is ongoing. It’s unlikely to be material prices, and it’s unlikely to be per unit labor costs, as both have budged little since the 1960s. We believe that the rise of “citizen voice” — a combination of changes in statutes, judicial doctrine, and social movements that gives citizens greater input into the decision-making process — has both democratized decision-making and added to costs.Regardless of the cause, it’s hard to come up with a plan to control costs when we don’t know what they truly are. The cost problem is likely not limited to Interstate highways.States know — and make public — the initial bids on infrastructure projects. However, states rarely disclose the final cost of the projects. This is critical, since it’s the divergence between the initial accepted bid and the final total cost that may drive a substantial amount of the cost increase. Thus, any new infrastructure bill should require recipients to disclose interim cost totals during the project, as well as the final total project cost. These disclosures should be published to one publicly accessible website.Public scrutiny can change behavior, but we can’t scrutinize costs we don’t know about. In the long run, the less money spent on any given piece of infrastructure means the more we can effectively spend on things like getting lead out of water and limiting sewage spills, and the less debt we create for future generations.

Progressives push Fed to drive funding away from fossil fuel companies More than two dozen House Democrats asked the Federal Reserve on Thursday to use its full arsenal of policy tools to direct funding away from the fossil fuel industry and toward communities harmed by climate change and pollution. In a Thursday letter to Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, 25 Democratic lawmakers asked the central bank to take more aggressive steps to fight climate change, including several actions the Fed has explicitly refused to take. “Without concrete objectives and measurable changes to the supervisory framework and monetary policy activities carried out by the Fed, we worry progress will be both too slow and insufficient in scale to adequately address the reality of the crisis our economy and our planet face,” wrote the Democrats, led by Reps. Mondaire Jones (N.Y.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.). The Fed has drawn political fire from Republicans for its early steps toward considering the risks climate change poses to financial stability and the economy. The bank has established two panels to research and identify those dangers, and is considering ways to incorporate climate risks into its supervision of U.S. banks. Republicans have warned the Fed against steering banks and lenders away from fossil fuel production and toward green energy. But Powell and other Fed officials have unequivocally ruled this direction out. “We are not climate policymakers here who can decide the way climate change will be addressed by the United States. We’re a regulatory agency that regulates a part of the economy,” Powell told a House panel in February. Some progressive Democrats, however, are pushing the Fed to do exactly what Republicans have pressured the bank to avoid. “Given the Fed’s financial stability objectives and supervisory role over these institutions, we believe there is a clear need and ability for the Fed to incentivize and enforce a reduction in fossil fuel financing,” the House Democrats wrote. White House says bills are bipartisan even if

Democrats Prepare To Push Biden For A $10 Trillion, Decade-Long Green Infrastructure Plan --As President Joe Biden gears up to press Congress for a $3 trillion overhaul of the nation’s infrastructure, Republicans have started trying to narrow the package’s ambitions to just roads, bridges and ports.On Monday, Biden will face some new pressure on the package, but from the left. Much of the Congressional Progressive Caucus is set to unveil the THRIVE Act, which would provide $10 trillion in federal infrastructure spending over the next decade, including massive investments in renewable energy, zero-emissions buildings and economic development in some of the worst-polluted parts of the country.“The THRIVE Act is the agenda that establishes the pillars for economic renewal in our country,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a lead sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, told HuffPost by phone. “This bill lays out a plan for massive job creation within the United States, so that a younger generation of Americans can think of these jobs as careers.”It seems likely that Democrats will be able to get some level of infrastructure through both chambers; even Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the most conservative Democrat in the Senate and a powerful swing vote, has signaled willingness to pass an infrastructure bill without Republican support. And Biden appears to be warming to calls to reform or scrap the filibuster, the Senate procedure requiring a 60-vote majority to pass most legislation. But the THRIVE Act ― a version of which former Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), who now serves as Biden’s interior secretary, introduced last year ― offers a broad progressive consensus on what an ambitious package should include. The bill is light on specifics but sets out a general framework for directing at least $1 trillion per year over the next decade to rapidly weaning the United States off fossil fuels and replacing corroded water systems, increasing benefits for home care workers, remediating toxic industrial sites, and propping up new, localized food producers, among other things. The bill lays out an expansive vision of how to slash the nation’s planet-heating emissions in half and balance the racial and regional gaps in wealth and health, issues that have animated the party’s base and inflected once-sleepy debates over roads and rail funding with the energy of a new-wave civil rights movement.

U.S. Infrastructure, Climate and Health Crises Deserve $10 Trillion Investment, Says AOC - Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus made clear Wednesday that while President Joe Biden's roughly $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal is a welcome start, they believe the final package must be far more ambitious if it is to truly transform America's fossil fuel-dominated energy system and bring the country into line with crucial climate targets.Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said in an appearance on MSNBC late Wednesday that ideally the top-line number would be around $10 trillion in spending on core infrastructure, renewable energy, healthcare improvements, and other key priorities over the next decade, a level of investment the New York Democrat presented as necessary to match the scale of the crises facing the country."That may be an eye-popping figure for some people," said Ocasio-Cortez, a leading Green New Deal advocate. "But we need to understand that we are in a devastating economic moment, millions of people in the United States are unemployed, we have a truly crippled healthcare system, and a planetary crisis on our hands — and we're the wealthiest nation in the history of the world. So, we can do $10 trillion." The chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), issued a similar message in a statement released just ahead of Biden's speech in Pittsburgh, where he sketched the broad outlines of his plan and promised "transformational progress in our effort to tackle climate change with American jobs and American ingenuity.""We believe this package can and should be substantially larger in size and scope," said Jayapal. "During his campaign, President Biden committed to a '$2 trillion accelerated investment' over four years on climate-focused infrastructure alone... Today's proposal, which includes many other priorities such as care jobs, will invest half that amount — roughly $2 trillion over eight years — or 1% of GDP. It makes little sense to narrow his previous ambition on infrastructure or compromise with the physical realities of climate change."The Washington Democrat went on to voice her caucus' preference for a single, sweeping package encompassing infrastructure spending and health insurance expansions, child care and long-term care, and other measures, rather than two separate pieces of legislation. Biden is expected to unveil the healthcare-focused portion of his package — titled the American Families Plan — some time this month.  "We believe that our country is ready for an even bolder, more comprehensive, and integrated plan that demonstrates the size, scope, and speed required to aggressively slash carbon pollution and avoid climate catastrophe; create millions of good, family-sustaining, union jobs; improve Americans' health and safety; reduce racial and gender disparities; and curb income inequality by making the wealthy and large corporations finally pay their fair share in taxes," said Jayapal.

Vehicle mileage tax could be on the table in infrastructure talks, Buttigieg says - A vehicle mileage tax could be on the table in talks about how to finance the White House's expected multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure proposal, according to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Buttigieg, who spoke with CNBC's Kayla Tausche on Friday, also contended that President Joe Biden's forthcoming plans to rebuild the nation's roads, bridges and waterways would lead to a net gain for the U.S. taxpayer and not a net outlay. "When you think about infrastructure, it's a classic example of the kind of investment that has a return on that investment," he said. "That's one of many reasons why we think this is so important. This is a jobs vision as much as it is an infrastructure vision, a climate vision and more." He also weighed in on several potential revenue-generating options to fund the project. He spoke fondly of a mileage levy, which would tax travelers based on the distance of the journey instead of on how much gasoline they consume. "A so-called vehicle-miles-traveled tax or mileage tax, whatever you want to call it, could be a way to do it," he said. Democrats have slowly pivoted away from a gasoline tax in favor of a mileage tax amid a simultaneous, climate friendly effort to encourage consumers to drive electric cars.  "I'm hearing a lot of appetite to make sure that there are sustainable funding streams," the Transportation secretary said. A mileage tax "shows a lot of promise if we believe in that so-called user-pays principle: The idea that part of how we pay for roads is you pay based on how much you drive." He added: "You're hearing a lot of 'maybe' here because all of these things need to be balanced and could be part of the mix."

 Biden Convenes Cabinet for First Meeting, Tapping 5 Secretaries With Selling His Infrastructure Plan  -President Biden held his first cabinet meeting on Thursday, a day after rolling out his $2 trillion infrastructure plan, with the socially distanced participants gathering in the East Room of the White House — a less cramped space than the Cabinet Room.The afternoon meeting came just over 10 weeks into Mr. Biden’s presidency, a period in which the Senate confirmed all of his cabinet secretaries and almost all of his nominees to other cabinet-level positions. Mr. Biden began by designating five cabinet secretaries — Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg; Marcia L. Fudge, the housing secretary; Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo; Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm; and Martin J. Walsh, the labor secretary — to serve as his emissaries on infrastructure. “These cabinet members will represent me in dealing with Congress, engage the public in selling the plan and help work out the details as we refine it and move forward,” Mr. Biden said, perched at a rectangle of white-clothed tables that occupied much of the cavernous room.Mr. Biden, seeking to cement the inroads he made among voters in the industrial Midwest last fall, reiterated his intention to strengthen “Buy American” rules to encourage the use of domestic goods in federal projects. The president told his cabinet members “to take a hard look at their agency’s spending” to ensure taxpayer money was going to American workers and companies. After that, members of the news media were ushered out of the room. The gathering struck a different tone from the stilted cabinet meetings during President Donald J. Trump’s administration, when attendees showered him with praise. Mr. Biden, by contrast, was the only one who spoke during the brief period the news media was allowed in the room on Thursday. The sprawling setting, necessitated by the pandemic, gave the meeting the air of a formal diplomatic summit rather than an intimate huddle of advisers. The meeting lasted for about two hours, the White House said. Mr. Biden’s infrastructure proposal calls for spending in a variety of areas — including transportation, energy and housing — making a number of his cabinet members well positioned to help sell the plan in the coming months.

Kudlow warns Biden tax plan would ignite 'class warfare' - Former Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow warned that President Biden’s plan to raise taxes on the wealthy would ignite “class warfare” and send companies packing. Kudlow, who served as the National Economic Council director for former President Donald Trump, said if Democrats get rid of the filibuster’s 60-vote rule, then they will force their “progressive legislative agenda” through the Senate. “Most of these initiatives are anti-business. A lot of class warfare against wealthy people,” he told John Catsimatidis on his WABC 770 AM radio show. Kudlow said Biden for the first time during his press conference last Thursday signaled that the filibuster “adamantly has to change.” High taxes “are not going to build an economy. You’re not going to be competitive around the world. You’re not going to bring investment home. You’re going to repel investment. Corporations will leave. Inversions will start all over again,” Kudlow said on the show. Donald Trump's top economic adviser Larry Kudlow. “If we wage war on businesses and wealthy investors, that’s nuts. And that’s part of this class warfare that will do great harm to our economy and to the stock market,” he continued.

Democrats look to impose capital gains tax at death - Several Senate Democrats are pushing to boost federal revenue by taxing certain capital gains that are passed down after death. Traditionally, unrealized capital gains have not been taxed, allowing wealthy individuals to transfer stocks, bonds and real estate investments to their children and grandchildren without the recipients being taxed. Under current law, heirs don’t have to pay tax on the capital gains that were accrued by an asset or investment before they received it. They only have to pay capital gains taxes on an inherited asset after they sell it, and they only have to do so for the amount the asset or investment appreciated after it came into their possession. Democrats, led by Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), say it’s time for that to change. Van Hollen has joined with Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) to introduce a proposal to close what they call the “stepped-up basis loophole by taxing the unrealized capital gains of fortunes on which the original owner never paid income or capital gains taxes." “The stepped-up basis loophole is one of the biggest tax breaks on the books, providing an unfair advantage to the wealthy heirs every year. This proposal will eliminate that loophole once and for all. It’s time to stop subsidizing massive inheritances for the rich and start investing in everyday Americans,” Van Hollen said in a statement Monday afternoon. Warren said it would close a loophole “on huge, inherited fortunes for the wealthiest Americans” and get “the wealthy and well-connected to pay their fair share.” The proposal would exempt $1 million in unrealized gains per individual or $2 million per couple from taxes. Currently, wealth that is passed on after death is only subject to the estate tax, for which there is a large exemption of more than $11 million per person or $22 million per couple. Under Van Hollen’s plan, a $1 million stock purchase made by a deceased individual in the year 2000 that had increased to $5 million by the year 2021, and thereby enjoyed a gain in value of $4 million, would be subject to a 23.8-percent tax on $3 million in unrealized capital gains. Such an amount would be subject to the top capital gains rate of 20 percent and the 3.8 percent net investment income tax that was enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act. If the asset were jointly held by a deceased couple, the tax would fall on $2 million in unrealized gains, with the other $2 million being exempt. “The exclusion applies to the deceased, not the heir. Each decedent gets $1 million exemption for unrealized capital gains,” said a Senate aide familiar with the proposal. Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank, said higher taxes on unrealized capital gains is likely to be a core component of the Democratic agenda under President Biden. “It is inevitable that Democrats are going to do something on unrealized gains, and stepped-up basis is a prime suspect for action,” he said. The White House is circulating a plan to raise $3.5 trillion in tax revenue over the next year to offset the cost of a potentially $4 trillion infrastructure plan.

 How Britain’s 'build back better' plan went very, very wrong - Retrofitting homes is a key pillar of Joe Biden’s $2 trillion American Jobs Plan to “build back better” from the COVID-19 recession. The president urged Congress on Wednesday to mobilize $213 billion to “produce, preserve, and retrofit” more than a million homes for affordability and efficiency. In addition to creating jobs, energy efficiency measures like insulating roofs and walls and installing electric heating will save people money on their utility bills and reduce carbon emissions from the nation’s buildings.But the Biden administration would be wise to look across the pond for a cautionary tale before rolling out any such program too quickly.Last summer, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s administration unveiled its own “build back better” economic stimulus package, which centered around a $2 billion program to retrofit England’s homes. The program was supposed to fund energy efficiency and clean heat upgrades in 600,000 homes, getting the country closer to net-zero emissions while creating 100,000 jobs, but it was canceled last week after a shambolic six-month run that may have killed more jobs than it spurred. “When it comes down to improving the energy efficiency of our homes, this is about the worst thing the government could have done,” Andrew McCausland, the director of a British contracting company, told the i, a daily newspaper. “It has destroyed confidence in the building business in taking on this work in the future.”   Through Johnson’s Green Homes Grants program, or GHG, most U.K. homeowners and landlords could receive up to about $6,900 to help pay for insulation, electric heating systems, and various other energy-efficient fixes like new windows, doors, and heating controls. Low-income homeowners were eligible for up to nearly $14,000.  The trouble began shortly after the grants became available at the end of September. In order to apply, building owners had to obtain a quote from an accredited installer, but few existed. Installers said they were reluctant to go through the time-consuming and expensive process of getting accredited without a longer-term assurance that there would be work. McCausland told the Guardian he spent $8,200 and an estimated 160 hours of unpaid work to get his employees accredited. Others said that navigating the process, which involved multiple certifications, was overly complicated, making it especially difficult for small companies with no administrative staff.  Building professionals’ wariness was understandable — they had been burned before. In 2015, the U.K. government canceled a similar energy efficiency retrofit program after just two years, resulting in a steep drop in demand for this kind of work.

Biden address to Congress to be decided by Capitol physician: Pelosi - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday said she’s waiting for the advice of the Capitol physician and the sergeant-at-arms before inviting President Biden to give his first address to a joint session of Congress.The California Democrat was asked about the timing of Biden’s initial address to Congress duringher weekly news conference.“That will be soon I hope,” Pelosi told reporters.Part of the decision, she said, depends on Dr. Brian Monahan, the current attending physician for Congress, and Maj. Gen. William Walker, the newly-named House sergeant-at-arms.They will be deciding how the address can be held safely amid the coronavirus pandemic, and how many people would be able to attend, Pelosi said.“We’ll await the advice of the Capitol physician, of the sergeant-at-arms, about how many people can be accommodated,” she said.“But whatever the number,” Pelosi added, “we’ll be ready whenever the president is ready to come. We’ll extend that invitation, which is the tradition.”Presidents typically make the speech in the first few weeks after entering the White House, but it is not called a “State of the Union” speech, which comes in the second year of the term.Biden, however, still has not set a date for the address. The date is picked in coordination with the White House, Pelosi said.She noted that this would be the first joint address to Congress since the coronavirus emerged, as former President Donald Trump’s last State of the Union was last February, before the pandemic hit.Pelosi also reminded reporters about how she dramatically ripped up a copy of Trump’s SOTU address at the end of that speech.

U.S. suspends all trade engagement with Myanmar until elected government returns  (Reuters) -The United States is immediately suspending all engagement with Myanmar under a 2013 trade and investment agreement until the return of a democratically elected government, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said on Monday. Saturday was the bloodiest day of protests in Myanmar since the Feb. 1 military coup with 114 people killed. Five more were killed on Monday here when thousands took to the streets again in opposition to the military returning to power after a decade. Tai said in a statement that Myanmar security forces’ killing of peaceful protesters, students, workers and labor leaders and children “has shocked the conscience of the international community.” “These actions are a direct assault on the country’s transition to democracy and the efforts of the Burmese people to achieve a peaceful and prosperous future,” said Tai, who was sworn into office on March 18. In addition to suspending work on 2013 framework agreement, Tai said USTR would consider Myanmar’s situation as it works with the U.S. Congress on reauthorizing the Generalized System of Preferences program, which reduces U.S. tariffs and provides other special trade access for some developing countries. Participation requires countries to maintain certain worker rights protections, and Tai said reports that Myanmar’s military leaders have targeted trade unions and workers for their role in pro-democracy protests raise serious concerns.

U.S., Japan, South Korea officials to discuss North Korea in a meeting on Friday (Reuters) - U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan will on Friday meet with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts and discuss issues including maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, a White House statement said late on Tuesday. North Korea launched two suspected ballistic missiles into the sea near Japan last week, underscoring steady progress in its weapons programme and ramping up pressure on the new U.S. administration as it reviews North Korea policy. Sullivan will meet National Security Secretariat Secretary General Shigeru Kitamura of Japan and National Security Adviser Suh Hoon of South Korea at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, the White House statement added.

U.S. condemns China moves to further reduce Hong Kong political participation (Reuters) - The United States strongly condemns moves by China to further reduce political participation and representation in Hong Kong and is deeply concerned by a second delay in the territory’s LegCo elections, the U.S. State Department said on Tuesday. “We are deeply concerned by these changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system, which defy the will of people in Hong Kong and deny Hong Kongers a voice in their own governance,” a State Department spokesman said in an email when asked about the changes finalized on Tuesday. The sweeping overhaul of Hong Kong’s electoral system will drastically curb democratic representation as authorities seek to ensure “patriots” rule the global financial hub. The measures are part of Beijing’s efforts to consolidate its increasingly authoritarian grip on Hong Kong following the imposition of a national security law in June, which critics see as a tool to crush dissent. Britain said the changes breached a 1984 Joint Declaration signed by then Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in which Hong Kong’s autonomy was guaranteed under a “one country, two systems” agreement. The U.S. spokesman, who did not want to be identified by name, said Beijing must uphold its international obligations under the Joint Declaration.

Noam Chomsky: Biden’s Foreign Policy Is Largely Indistinguishable From Trump’s -  (transcript) President Joe Biden’s domestic policies, especially on the economic front, are quite encouraging, offering plenty of hope for a better future. The same, however, cannot be said about the administration’s foreign policy agenda, as Noam Chomsky’s penetrating insights and astute analysis reveal in this exclusive interview for Truthout. Chomsky is a world-famous public intellectual, Institute Professor Emeritus at MIT and Laureate Professor of Linguistics at the University of Arizona.

US and Iran to Hold Indirect Talks on the Nuclear Deal in Vienna - The US and Iran will send officials to Vienna next week to participate in talks aimed at restoring the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, but they will not communicate directly. "Iran and the US will be in the same town, but not the same room," a European diplomatic source told Reuters. The Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the formal name of the 2015 nuclear deal, held a virtual meeting on Friday and agreed that all parties would participate in talks in Vienna next week "in order to clearly identify sanctions lifting and nuclear implementation measures," according to an EU statement. "In this context, the coordinator will also intensify separate contacts in Vienna with all JCPOA participants and the United States," the statement added. State Department spokesperson Ned Price in a statement provided to Insider confirmed the US had agreed to participate in talks to "identify the issues involved in a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA with Iran." "These remain early days, and we don't anticipate an immediate breakthrough as there will be difficult discussions ahead. But we believe this is a healthy step forward," Price added. "These talks will be structured around working groups that the EU is going to form with the remaining participants in the JCPOA, including Iran." Price said the primary issues to be discussed will be steps Iran would need to take to return to compliance with the deal, and sanctions relief steps the US would also need to take to return to compliance. "We do not anticipate presently that there will be direct talks between the United States and Iran through this process, though the United States remains open to them," Price said. Iran's top diplomat, Javad Zarif, in a tweet also said there would be no US-Iran meeting. "Unnecessary," Zarif said. Regardless, this marks a major step toward one of President Joe Biden's top foreign policy goals. Though the US and Iran will not meet directly, the talks will mark the first significant discussions on reviving the deal since Biden took office. The Obama era deal was designed to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. Against the wishes of US allies, President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the deal in May 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran. The move saw tensions between the US and Iran escalate to historic heights, sparking fears of a new war in the Middle East — particularly after Trump ordered a drone strike that killed Iran's top general in January 2020.   On the campaign trail, Biden vowed to restore the deal. But making good on this pledge has proved complicated, with US and Iran at a diplomatic impasse over reviving the pact. Tehran has called on Washington to lift sanctions before it makes a move, insisting that since the US initially pulled out of the deal it should be the first to return to compliance. Meanwhile the US, has said Iran should return to full compliance with the nuclear restrictions under the agreement before it receives any sanctions relief. Iran remained in compliance with the deal for roughly a year after Trump withdrew from it, but has effectively abandoned the pact in the time since. 

Biden spokesperson Jen Psaki worked for Israeli spy firm --President Joe Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki worked for an Israeli firm accused of involvement in surveillance of Palestinians under Israeli military occupation.Psaki’s public financial disclosures show that she earned at least $5,000 as a “crisis communications consultant” for AnyVision.The disclosure forms for executive branch officials can be requested from the White House. Psaki’s disclosure obtained by The Electronic Intifada is included below this article.The exact date of the work is not specified, but it occurred between the time Psaki left the Obama administration in 2017 and her new role in the Biden White House.Psaki has operated a communications firm called Evergreen Consulting since a month after President Barack Obama left office.This covers the period when AnyVision faced a public relations crisis over its alleged complicity in Israel’s abuses of Palestinian rights.In 2019, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that AnyVision’s facial recognition technology was being secretly used by Israel’s occupation army “to monitor West Bank Palestinians at checkpoints on the way into Israel – while using a network of cameras deep inside the West Bank.”AnyVision’s president, Amir Kain, was former head of the Israeli defense ministry’s security department, and one of its advisers, Tamir Pardo, is a former head of the Mossad spying and assassination agency, according toHaaretz. In other words, AnyVision was reportedly an integral part of what Israel’s leading human rights group B’Tselem recently described as an “apartheid regime” established to perpetuate “the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians.”

 Microsoft Wins $22 Billion Contract To Supply US Military With Augmented-Reality Headsets -One year after beating out rivals like Amazon for the coveted Pentagon "JEDI" contract, a $10 billion mandate to rebuild the Pentagon's cloud-computing infrastructure (despite a lawsuit from Amazon alleging unfair discrimination in the awarding of the contract), Microsoft has just won another major DoD contract, this one worth potentially more than 2x the JEDI contract.Microsoft shares climbed on the news that the company had won a contract to build more than 120,000 custom HoloLens augmented-reality headsets for the US Army. The contract could be worth up to $21.88BN over a 10-year stretch.Investors celebrated the news likely because, according to CNBC, the deal shows Microsoft can generate meaningful revenue from a "futuristic product" like the HoloLens, which involved years of research, and also lies beyond the company's core competency area - software and its Windows operating system.The mega-contract follows a much smaller contract worth $480MM Microsoft received to develop prototypes of the Integrated Visual Augmented System. The new contract is essentially an order to put that prototype into mass production.Though it was widely panned when first release, the HoloLens (which costs $3,500) overlays a holographic interface over real-world environments, and allows users to interact using hand and voice gestures. For example, the headset can use thermal imaging to reveal enemy combatants hiding in the night.

Child unknowingly tweets from US nuclear command's account -  Some jokingly said the cryptic tweet, ";l;;gmlxzssaw," was a US nuclear launch code. Others, that the Pentagon had been hacked.  And some even thought it was a signal to political conspiracists.Now, the US Strategic Command, which runs the country's powerful nuclear weapons force, says the enigmatic posting on its Twitter account in fact came from the hands of a precocious child.Headquartered in Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, Stratcom manages the US military's strategic deterrence -- that is, the massive nuclear weapons force and missile defences that are designed to discourage any attack against the country by other powers.So its media comments are closely watched for signs of any change in its current defence stance.But Stratcom told reporter Mikael Thalen of the Daily Dot that the tweet was no secret message, and was instead the result of a Stratcom social media editor working from home."The Command's Twitter manager, while in a telework status, momentarily left the Command's Twitter account open and unattended," Stratcom official Kendall Cooper said in a letter Thalen posted on line."His very young child took advantage of the situation and started playing with the keys and, unfortunately, and unknowingly, posted the tweet. Thirty minutes later Stratcom tweeted to disregard the previous tweet, and then both of those messages were deleted.

 Thousands of migrant children remain detained in overflowing detention camps along southern US border - As of Tuesday, 4,100 migrants, most of whom are unaccompanied children, were being held in a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) holding facility in Donna, Texas that only has a capacity for 250 people. The conditions, which have been exposed by a recent visit by reporters sanctioned by the Biden administration, can only be described as a crime against humanity. Images of children lying side by side under foil blankets with only inches between them could be seen in a video taken within the camp. Children are being kept in eight “pods” consisting of 500 children each, crowded into cages lined with see-through plastic sheets. The pods only measure around 3,200 square feet and are housed in tents on hard floors with some mattresses. For reference, the average single-family home in the United States in 2019 was 2,301 square feet, according to the Census Bureau. Children, who are 14 years and older, are processed in an intake building, fingerprinted, photos taken, and then moved to another room where they are given notices to appear for immigration court. No testing for COVID-19 is being done in the camps except on symptomatic individuals. Illustrating the dire conditions in the camps, all shoelaces were removed by prison officials from child detainees in order to prevent self-harm, as is practiced regularly in US adult prisons. Immigrant advocates have said that there is no adequate access to soap or food. The horrific images emerging from the camps set up along the US-Mexico border come following the Biden administration’s preparations for the escalation of deportations, utilizing “Title 42” rules to claim concern for public health to push immigrants back south of the border. A DHS spokesman told the website Axios that the DHS is “working with our partners in Mexico to increase their capacity.” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas declared on March 21 that the “border is closed.” The first pictures from inside the camps during the Biden administration were leaked on March 22 following a visit by Texas Representative Henry Cuellar to the Donna camp. When Chuck Todd of NBC’s “Meet the Press” directly asked Mayorkas whether there was a block on media accessing DHS facilities, Mayorkas denied it, claiming, “We are also working on providing access so the American public can in a safe way, without jeopardizing our operations, see what is going on. We’re working on that.” When Mayorkas speaks of reporters “jeopardizing” DHS “operations,” he is speaking of the exposure of the systematic imprisonment and deportation of men, women and children fleeing poverty, war and dictatorship, much of which comes as a direct result of US imperialism’s operations in South and Central American countries pursued through Democratic and Republican administrations.

Asylum Is Not an Open Question - FOR WEEKS NOW, panels of pundits and teams of talking heads have vigorously debated whether permitting access to the United States’ asylum system is the right political choice for President Joe Biden; if it’s sensible to let desperate migrants fleeing the specter of death to be allowed to so much as apply for protections; if perhaps allowing asylum to effectively exist at all is just not smart. Mainstream journalists have for the most part nodded along, concurring implicitly or explicitly with the premise that these are difficult questions worth asking.In a representative example, Bush-era war fetishist and current Atlantic editor David Frum uncritically tweeted out “research” from the SPLC-designated hate group Center for Immigration Studies, claiming that asylum had “evolved into an immigration system for those the US would ordinarily refuse,” a statement so absurdly fatuous that it may be one of Frum’s greatest hits, along with his Iraq-WMD filth. He lamented that asylum provided a path for “ultra-low-skilled immigrants from Central American and Caribbean,” as if the purpose of humanitarian protections was economic gain, not to mention that many of these arrivals are literal children and that the U.S. economy would collapse overnight without supposedly low-skilled immigration.Discussions of asylum are often littered with such basic factual errors—Biden did not, for example, begin allowing unaccompanied minors to avoid expulsion; a court order mandated it with Trump still in office, and the new administration decided to voluntarily continue to observe that policy—but their purpose has never really been to inform. Instead, it’s to build and latch on to cyclical narratives, and the narrative du jour is one of crisis, how to “solve” the problem of non-citizens asking for help.This has been a bizarre conversation on a number of levels, not least because many interlocutors proceed from the assumption that permitting humanitarian migration is even a choice that the president gets to make. It is not: U.S. law lays out that any “alien . . . who arrives in the United States . . .  irrespective of such alien’s status, may apply for asylum.” The statute enumerates certain exceptions, such as adults applying more than one year after entry and the existence of specific “safe third country” agreements (which formed another front in Trump’s efforts to gut asylum).

Honduras, Guatemala break up migrant caravan at behest of Biden administration - Hours after beginning its journey to the United States on Tuesday, a new caravan of Honduran refugees was broken up by Honduran and Guatemalan state forces. About 300 Honduran asylum seekers had joined the caravan, organized spontaneously on social media and by word of mouth, when the Honduran police set up roadblocks demanding negative COVID-19 tests and identification papers before ultimately dispersing the caravan. About 32 of the asylum seekers reached the Guatemalan border, where they were immediately turned back by the security forces. This is the third migrant caravan formed in Honduras since two major hurricanes devastated much of the country last November. Honduran police dissolved the first one in December, while the second caravan in late January was brutally repressed by Guatemalan troops with beatings, tear gas canisters and the use of other antiriot gear. The repression has not stopped smaller groups and families from reaching the US border, with the US Border Patrol apprehe­nding nearly 100,000 migrants in February alone. This is the biggest migrant surge in two decades, according to the US Department of Homeland Security. The Democratic administration of President Joe Biden has detained more than 16,000 unaccompanied refugee children in crowded and inhuman conditions, while it has continued the Trump policy of summarily deporting the vast majority of asylum-seekers, using the pretext of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has only served to scapegoat those fleeing a humanitarian disaster for the health care and social crisis within the United States itself. In the background of the assault on the latest caravan, US Vice President Kamala Harris, who was recently appointed by Biden to lead the response to the migration crisis, called Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei on Tuesday to effectively deliver marching orders for the crackdown on the refugees. The White House readout of the conversation speaks of US “efforts to increase humanitarian assistance” and “explore innovative opportunities to create jobs and to improve the conditions” in the region. It concludes with the true purpose of the call: “The Vice President also thanked President Giammattei for his efforts to secure Guatemala’s southern border.”

The H-1B visa program remains the “outsourcing visa”: More than half of the top 30 H-1B employers were outsourcing firms – EPI - Key takeaways:

  • Most of the biggest users of the H-1B visas—the U.S.’s largest temporary work visa program—are companies that have an outsourcing business model.
  • These companies exploit the H-1B program’s weaknesses to facilitate the transfer of U.S. jobs offshore as a lower cost alternative to hiring U.S. workers, and sometimes to replace incumbent U.S. workers with H-1B workers who are paid wages that are far below market wage rates.
  • The latest data show that over 33,000 new H-1Bs were issued to the top 30 H-1B employers, accounting for nearly 40% of all new H-1Bs in 2020 that are subject to the annual limit of 85,000.
  • Of the top 30 H-1B employers, 17 of them were outsourcing firms. Those 17 outsourcing firms alone were issued 20,000 H-1B visas, nearly one-quarter of the total 85,000 annual limit.
  • President Joe Biden can and should implement regulations so that outsourcing companies can no longer exploit the program and to prevent them from underpaying skilled migrant workers.

The U.S.’s largest temporary work visa program is the H-1B—an important program that allows U.S. employers to hire college-educated migrant workers. However, the H-1B program is not operating as intended and needs to be fixed: Instead of being used to fill genuine labor shortages in skilled occupations without negatively impacting U.S. labor standards, the latest data show that the H-1B’s biggest users are companies that have an outsourcing business model. President Joe Biden can and should implement regulations so that outsourcing companies can no longer exploit the program and to prevent them from underpaying skilled migrant workers. Outsourcing companies exploit the H-1B program’s weaknesses to build and expand a business model based on outsourcing jobs from other companies. In this arrangement, rather than being employed directly by the outsourcing company that hired them, the outsourcer sends its H-1B workers to work for third-party clients, either on- or off-site. The aim of the outsourcing company is ultimately to move as much work as possible abroad to countries where labor costs are lower and profit margins are higher. The H-1B workers serve three purposes in this business model: to facilitate the transfer of jobs and tasks offshore; to coordinate offshore teams; and to serve as a lower cost alternative to hiring U.S. workers for on-site jobs. H-1B outsourcing companies also replace incumbent U.S. workers with H-1B workers and typically pay their H-1B workers the lowest wages permitted by law, far below market wage rates.

Major Liability? Biden's Dog Bites Another Employee After Returning From Delaware Seclusion  - I previously wrote about the historical and legal perspectives of a biting incident involving one of the presidential pets, Major.  Both Biden German Shepherds (Major and Champ) were previously whisked out of town.  They were then quietly brought back.   Now Major has bitten another person who reportedly required medical attention. In the prior column, I noted that under tort law a dog is afforded (at most) “one free bite” before strict liability applies. Major could now be treated as a known vicious animal for liability purposes.Major was adopted in November 2018 from an animal shelter. The latest incident involved a National Park Service employee who was bitten while on the White House South Lawn on Monday afternoon.First lady Jill Biden’s press secretary Michael LaRosa told CNN:“Yes, Major nipped someone on a walk. Out of an abundance of caution, the individual was seen by WHMU and then returned to work.” The difference between “nipped” and “bitten” is that you are bitten by other people’s dogs. Your dog however only nips, which is somewhere on the spectrum between a lick and a complete devouring.

 Did the Lockdown Cause More Suicides? - Menzie Chinn - A common assertion made by those opposed to public health measures such as lockdowns was that suicides were rising markedly – see e.g., Carney/Washington Examiner via AEI, Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore, and blog commenters like sammy. The data are in. This article indicates suicides actually went down in 2020, 5.6% relative to 2019. Figure 1 shows a longer time series – raw statistics (on left log scale) and per million (on right scale). Figure 1: US Suicides (blue, left log scale), 1999-2016 log linear estimated trend (gray, left log scale), suicides per million (red, right scale).  2020 data is provisional. Source: CDC, Ahmed and Anderson (JAMA, 2021), BEA via FRED (POPTHM) for population, and author’s calculations. Suicides fall in 2020. Using a recursive 1-step ahead Chow test on growth rate of the suicide rate, there is a statistically significant (at greater than 1% MSL) decrease in 2020. Interestingly, suicides rise above log linear trend (estimated over 1999-2016) in 2017-18.

 Is Dr. Fauci Trying to Steal the Credit for All the Vaccines Delivered by Operation Warp Speed? -by Lambert Strether - On Sunday Night, CNN ran a special, “Covid War: The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out ” (“Covid War”) which gave rise to the narrative embodied in the following headlines (which cross the political spectrum, from the Independent to the Daily Mail):

All these stories are basically wrappers for a Fauci quote from “Covid War,” which I’ll get to, and if you look carefully, the headlines are pretty vague. What does “pioneered” mean, and is OWS “the project”? What “decision” did Fauci make? What does “started the ball rolling” mean? So how much credit should we give Fauci? How much credit should we give to Operation Warp Speed? And what is the over-arching narrative that the Biden administration, through Fauci, and with the help of CNN, is trying to construct? First, let’s get the question Fauci’s role in Operation Warp Speed (OWS) out of the way. He had none. Here is the OWS organizational chart:  Fauci appears nowhere on it, nor does his institutional base, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, of which he is Director. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Fauci did not interface or liaison with OWS. But he played no role within it. If you will look at the bottom middle of the chart, you will see the vaccine developers involved: Johnson and Johnson (Jannsen), Merck, Moderna, Novavax, Sanofi, AstraZenaca, and Pfizer (the agreement with Pfizer was for purchase only). Now let’s see what Fauci actually said on CNN. There are no clips up on the Internet yet, but here is a CNN transcript. The interview is Sanjay Gupta, chief medical correspondent for CNN:

 The 'COVID-industrial complex' — a web of Big Pharma, Big Tech, and politicians — are profiting off the pandemic at the expense of the public - It has been over a year since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus pandemic a public health emergency of international concern. The pandemic has left in its wake fear, death, and economic ruin to millions of people worldwide. However, for Big Pharma, Big Tech, outsourced corporates, management consultants, military outfits, politicians and their cronies, and a select number of scientists, life has been good. These individuals and organizations benefiting from the pandemic constitute what I call the COVID-industrial complex (CIC). The COVID-industrial complex is a transnational multi-billion dollar public-private partnership. It is a well-oiled machine, hence why it is only appropriate to add it to the select list of industrial complexes where "Businesses become entwined in social or political systems or institutions, creating or bolstering a profit economy from these systems."  Under this industrial complex, the government, which sits at the top of the food chain, uses its financial power to create an enabling environment that rewards other participants in the CIC. Some may justify the existence of the COVID-industrial complex because overspending and waste are permissible if it results in saved lives. Others may argue that capitalism rewards those who produce things that are rare and valuable. While there is nothing wrong with making a profit, there is something morally wrong when the excessive gain is made on the back of people's misery, primarily when characterized by secrecy, overpricing, cronyism, inefficiency, and unfairness. Several COVID contracts have been awarded without a proper competitive tendering process. An investigation by USA Today on 15 of the states most impacted by the pandemic revealed over 1,600 COVID contracts with no competitive bids.Some of the contracts even went to vendors engaged in tax fraud. According to the National Audit Office, between March 2020 and July 2020, the British government awarded £10.5 billion (roughly $14.4 billion) in COVID contracts without a competitive tender process. NPR identified 250 companies that got COVID deals worth more than $1 million without going through a fully competitive bidding process. These companies included a company that imported vodka. In some instances, funds for COVID emergencies have been utilized for other uses, as in the case of the Pentagon, which diverted some of the $1 billion funds meant to build up the country's supplies of medical equipment. Instead, the fund was channelled to defense contractors and used to produce jet engines, body armor, and uniforms.

Obscene global vaccine profiteering by pharmaceutical companies - Last week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a private Zoom meeting of backbench Tory MPs, “The reason we have the vaccine success is because of capitalism, because of greed my friends… It was giant corporations that wanted to give good returns to shareholders. It was driven by big pharma.” His obscene comments sum up the response of the ruling elite to the pandemic—an opportunity for profiteering on a huge scale, aided and abetted by imperialist governments that have protected Big Pharma’s monopoly profits. The reality is that the pharmaceutical companies were initially not interested in vaccine development. Zain Rizvi of the advocacy group Public Citizen told the Financial Times that the “immense scarcity” of vaccines was directly attributable to Big Pharma being “missing in action” as the coronavirus pandemic took off. The drug companies had years ago cut back on vaccine research and development in favour of blockbuster drugs to treat cancer and rare diseases, though the likelihood of a pandemic had long been discussed. Even after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11 last year, three of the largest corporations, GSK, Sanofi and Merck, that dominated the vaccine market, were reluctant to get involved. They calculated that the pandemic would have run its course before a vaccine was ready and demonstrating once again the degree to which public health needs take second place to profits. As the BBC reported in December, “Initially firms didn't rush in to fund vaccine projects. Creating vaccines, especially in the teeth of an acute health emergency, hasn't proved very profitable in the past.” It was only after the governments of the European Union (EU), UK and US and agencies offered funding, including the main cost of running the “Phase 3” trials, assuming most of the risk in the process, that the industry started work on vaccine development, making rapid progress. The profit gouging also began in earnest. The US alone poured in an unprecedented $14 billion via Operation Warp Speed even though six of the Big Pharma, excluding Moderna, had combined revenues last year of $266 billion and profits of $46 billion, an 18 percent profit margin, and could easily have funded it themselves. While GSK, Sanofi and Merck received over $2 billion from the US government to support the production of vaccines, Merck pulled out after disappointing early test results. GSK and Sanofi are working jointly on a vaccine. According to the People’s Vaccine Alliance, they are largely sitting on the sidelines, planning to produce Covid-19 vaccines for only 1.5 per cent of the global population in 2021. Of the major vaccine producers, only Pfizer has a successful vaccine, produced jointly with the German company BioNTech using the new messenger RNA technology that requires storage at ultralow temperatures. The other major producers are new entrants to the field, the US-based biotech companies Moderna, whose vaccine also uses the RNA technology, and Novavax, whose vaccine can be stored in a normal refrigerator. Moderna, the most expensive vaccine, received $2.5 billion from the US government. The campaigning group Public Citizen argues that this means, “Taxpayers are paying for 100 percent of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine development. All of it.” With the US government subsequently buying or reserving up to 500 million doses, Moderna is likely to make a whopping $8 billion profit.

 The rich-poor gap in America is obscene: the two richest people in America, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, now own more wealth than the bottom 40% of Americans combined. - The United States cannot prosper and remain a vigorous democracy when so few have so much and so many have so little. While many of my congressional colleagues choose to ignore it, the issue of income and wealth inequality is one of the great moral, economic and political crises that we face – and it must be dealt with. The unfortunate reality is that we are moving rapidly toward an oligarchic form of society, where a handful of billionaires have enormous wealth and power while working families have been struggling in a way we have not seen since the Great Depression. This situation has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Today, half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck, 500,000 of the very poorest among us are homeless, millions are worried about evictions, 92 million are uninsured or underinsured, and families all across the country are worried about how they are going to feed their kids. Today, an entire generation of young people carry an outrageous level of student debt and face the reality that their standard of living will be lower than their parents’. And, most obscenely, low-income Americans now have a life expectancy that is about 15 years lower than the wealthy. Poverty in America has become a death sentence. Meanwhile, the people on top have never had it so good. The top 1% now own more wealth than the bottom 92%, and the 50 wealthiest Americans own more wealth than the bottom half of American society – 165 million people. While millions of Americans have lost their jobs and incomes during the pandemic, over the past year 650 billionaires have seen their wealth increase by $1.3tn. The growing gap between the very rich and everyone else is nothing new. Over the past 40 years there has been a massive transfer of wealth from the middle class and working families to the very wealthiest people in America. In 1978, the top 0.1% owned about 7% of the nation’s wealth. In 2019, the latest year of data available, they own nearly 20%. Unbelievably, the two richest people in America, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, now own more wealth than the bottom 40% of Americans combined. If income inequality had not skyrocketed over the past four decades and had simply stayed static, the average worker in America would be earning $42,000 more in income each year. Instead, as corporate chief executives now make over 300 times more than their average employees, the average American worker now earns $32 a week less than he or she did 48 years ago – after adjusting for inflation. In other words, despite huge increases in technology and productivity, ordinary workers are actually losing ground.

 GOP lawmakers ask Biden administration for guidance on reopening cruise industry -- A group of Republican lawmakers led by Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.) sent a letter to White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeffrey Zients last week asking that guidance be issued for the cruise industry to resume operations. In the letter, the lawmakers note that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had issued a Framework for Conditional Sailing in October and last year, and said it would release detailed phases to reopen. “To-date, however, the CDC has still not issued Phase II requirements. We are disappointed that the CDC has been neither transparent nor forthright with the cruise industry, leaving a sector that is a significant economic driver for our states at a standstill, and affecting jobs in all major ports and surrounding cities,” the letter read. “The cruise industry has faced unique challenges amid this pandemic, and is one of the only industries that is completely precluded from resuming normal operations,” the letter continued. “This has created a dramatic negative ripple effect on the Florida and Alaskan families, businesses, ports and communities that rely on the cruise industry.” On Sunday, it was reported that the CDC had rejected an appeal from the Cruise Lines International Association to lift restrictions that would allow ships to start sailing again in July. The CDC maintained that the current plan to lift restrictions in November would remain in place, with a spokesperson adding that the next phases are currently under review. The Republican lawmakers who signed the letter included Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Dan Sullivan (Alaska) along with Reps. Gus Bilirakis (Fla.), Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.) and Carlos Gimenez (Fla.) among others. They requested that more details on the Framework for Conditional Sailing as well as an expected timeline for the cruise industry reopening. They also inquired about what conditions the CDC the administration was looking for in order for the cruise industry to resume business.

U.S. Supreme Court takes up bid to revive defense of Kentucky abortion law (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a bid by Kentucky’s Republican attorney general to defend a restrictive state law, struck down by lower courts, that abortion rights advocates have said would effectively ban the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Attorney General Daniel Cameron has asked the justices to let him intervene in defense of the Republican-backed law after Democratic Governor Andy Beshear’s administration dropped the case. The Supreme Court is being asked to decide only that narrow issue, and not whether the law violates Supreme Court precedents holding that women have a right to obtain an abortion. Abortion opponents are hopeful that the Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, will curb abortion rights. Abortion rights advocates have said the 2018 law would effectively ban an abortion method called dilation and evacuation - the most common form of abortion performed during the second trimester of a pregnancy. U.S. suspends all trade engagement with Myanmar until elected government returns | Reuters

 Facebook Scrubs Trump Interview With Daughter-In-Law, Threatens New Restrictions -Shares of Twitter are paring earlier gains on Wednesday following a Fox News report that President Trump is moving ahead with his plans to launch a rival social media network.The list of respectable liberals and progressives who have urged social media giants like Facebook and Twitter to abandon their prohibition of President Trump includes Bill Gates and Bernie Sanders.Yet, instead of letting up, social media companies - goaded by Democratic lawmakers during the latest in a series of tedious hearings about "hate speech" (aka speech that liberals find politically unpalatable) - are doubling down. Fox & Friends on Wednesday slammed Facebook after the company removed an interview with Lara Trump and the former president from Facebook and Instagram. Lara Trump, who just joined Fox News as a paid contributor, posted the conversation with her father-in-law to her social media accounts, only to see it abruptly scrubbed due to the ban on content from the president.F&F host Brian Kilmeade seethed over the removal: "That’s unbelievable," Brian Kilmeade said. "Do you realize he is the former president of the United States? You do an interview with him, and it’s not worthy? It’s not allowed to be on your page? That is incredible."His co-host, Ainsley Earhardt, took the complaints a step further: "if they can pack the courts, make D.C. and Puerto Rico a state, if they can get all of these illegal immigrants to come in, then they are hoping they will vote for them eventually.""They can cancel Donald Trump on social media, so that he can’t have a platform and he can’t speak," she continued. "If they can bash our network, then they are on their way to controlling our country. And it’s a scary time. It’s a very scary time, and what is this gonna look like for our kids?" According to media reports, none of this should have come as a surprise: Trump officials were recently sent an email from a Facebook employee, warning that any content posted on Facebook and Instagram "in the voice of President Trump is not currently allowed on our platforms (including new posts with President Trump speaking)." Here's more on that from Fox News:  A group of Trump officials were sent an email from a Facebook employee, warning that any content posted on Facebook and Instagram "in the voice of President Trump is not currently allowed on our platforms (including new posts with President Trump speaking)" and warned that it "will be removed if posted, resulting in additional limitations on accounts that posted it.""This guidance applies to all campaign accounts and Pages, including Team Trump, other campaign messaging vehicles on our platforms, and former surrogates," the email, posted on Instagram by Trump's son, Eric Trump, stated.Constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley warned in a blog post that FB's censorship of Trump is "an obvious attack on free speech, including political speech". 

YouTube Unveils Hide Feature After Americans Mass-'Dislike' Biden Videos - Youtube, the video hosting platform owned by Google, announced on March 29 that they are going to test making the “dislike” count on videos invisible.The tech giant says that it’s being done in response to “targeted dislike campaigns” and “creator feedback around well-being.”“In response to creator feedback around well-being and targeted dislike campaigns, we’re testing a few new designs that don’t show the public dislike count,” YouTube announced on Twitter.“If you’re part of this small experiment, you might spot one of these designs in the coming weeks.”It further states on a Google support page:“Viewer feedback has always been, and will continue to be, an important part of YouTube. But we’ve heard from creators that the public dislike counts can impact their wellbeing, and may motivate a targeted campaign of dislikes on a creator’s video. So, we’re testing designs that don’t include the visible like or dislike count in an effort to balance improving the creator experience, while still making sure viewer feedback is accounted for and shared with the creator. ” A majority of responses on both the Twitter announcement and on the support page disapprove of the idea, with some comments suggesting the move is a consequence of the tremendous imbalance of “dislikes” on the present administration’s videos on their White House channel.

 USA Today 'race and inclusion' editor fired for Boulder shooting tweet --A “race and inclusion” editor at USA Today complained on Friday that she was fired after mistakenly tweeting that the Boulder supermarket shooter was another “angry white man” — but she’s blaming the resulting “alt-right” outrage, not just herself.“It’s always an angry white man. always,” ex-editor Hemal Jhaveri had said Monday in her offending tweet — which she admitted in a Medium post on Friday had been “careless.”“Extremely tired of people’s lives depending on whether a white man with an AR-15 is having a good day or not,” said the tweet, which noted that just days earlier a white gunman had shot up three Atlanta area massage parlors.The tweet turned out to be inaccurate — police soon identified the Boulder suspect as Syria-born Colorado resident Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa — and Jhaveri soon apologized and deleted her tweet.But not before the tweet sparked an online onslaught of accusations that she was a race and inclusion editor who is actually a “racist” hater of white men.“It was a dashed off over-generalization, tweeted after pictures of the shooter being taken into custody surfaced online,” Jhavari said in Medium of the tweet. “It was a careless error of judgement,” she added, “sent at a heated time, that doesn’t represent my commitment to racial equality. I regret sending it.”

Ghislaine Maxwell hit with new sex trafficking charges | TheHill Federal prosecutors on Monday unveiled two new charges in the criminal case against Ghislaine Maxwell, the British socialite and close confidant of Jeffrey Epstein, who is accused of helping Epstein recruit and sexually abuse girls.The new charges from the Southern District of New York accuse Maxwell of one count of sex trafficking conspiracy and one count of sex trafficking of a minor.With these new charges, Maxwell now faces an eight-count indictment. She was previously charged with four counts related to conspiracy to entice minors to travel and engage in illegal sex acts and two counts of perjury for allegedly lying to prosecutors.The original indictment accused Maxwell of engaging in illegal acts between 1994 and 1997. Monday’s indictment, however, includes a fourth minor victim, who alleges illicit activity between 2001 and 2004.According to the indictment the fourth victim, who was approximately 14 years old at the time, was recruited to “provide Epstein with sexualized massages” at his Palm Beach residence and was paid by Epstein or his associates, including Maxwell.The indictment adds that Maxwell groomed the fourth victim “to engage in sexual acts with Epstein through multiple means,” even when she knew they were under the age of 18.

 Biden extends PPP through May 31 --President Biden this week signed legislation extending the period small businesses have to apply for forgivable loans to help offset costs of the coronavirus pandemic, hailing it as a “bipartisan accomplishment.” Biden, in a brief Oval Office ceremony, said that he was proud to sign the legislation and that without it people would lose jobs. The legislation will extend the deadline for the Paycheck Protection Program to May 31 from March 31, giving businesses two additional months to apply. The legislation also provides the Small Business Administration an additional 30 days to process loans, in a bid to address longer wait times after the government began more strictly screening applications to prevent fraud. The program, established during the Trump administration, provides small businesses with fee-free federally backed loans. Expenses related to payroll, rent and operations expenditures can be forgiven, meaning many of the loans will convert into grants from the federal government. The SBA says it has approved more than 8.7 million loans valued at over $734 billion. Some $194.5 billion has already been forgiven by the government, according to the agency’s data. Earlier this year the Biden administration announced tweaks to the program, including a two-week exclusive application window for businesses with fewer than 20 employees and a new calculation formula for sole proprietors. The White House said those changes would help those who struggled to secure loans during early days of the program.

 Regulators seek industry feedback on risks and benefits of AI — The federal bank and credit union regulators are seeking information about how financial institutions use artificial intelligence to serve customers and whether additional guidance from the agencies is necessary. The Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the National Credit Union Administration on Monday requested information on how companies use artificial intelligence for fraud prevention, personalization of customer services, credit underwriting, and other operational purposes. The regulators said AI has the "potential to offer improved efficiency, enhanced performance, and cost reduction for financial institutions, as well as benefits to consumers and businesses," according to the request for information. But they also recognized potential risks associated with artificial intelligence, including a heightened risk of unlawful lending discrimination. "The RFI also solicits respondents’ views on the use of AI in financial services to assist in determining whether any clarifications from the agencies would be helpful for financial institutions’ use of AI in a safe and sound manner and in compliance with applicable laws and regulations, including those related to consumer protection," the agencies said. The agencies said that they are looking to better understand the appropriate risk management controls that firms should put in place when employing artificial intelligence, as well as any challenges firms face in developing, adopting and managing artificial intelligence. Comments will be due 60 days after the RFI is published in the Federal Register. /p>

Congressional Black Caucus members back Baradaran for OCC job — Thirty-four members of the Congressional Black Caucus are urging the Biden administration to tap Mehrsa Baradaran for comptroller of the currency, further escalating the already pitched fight over who will lead the national bank regulator. In a one-page letter to President Biden dated March 25, the lawmakers stressed the importance of closing the racial wealth gap and the expertise that Baradaran — a professor at the University of California, Irvine, and former banking lawyer — would bring to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. “Given the critical role that this office plays in creating and enacting policies to bridge the racial wealth gap and address the persistent issue of wealth inequality, it is clear that Ms. Baradaran is the best choice for this role,” the letter said. “Baradaran is a brilliant scholar and consumer advocate who has devoted her career to understanding and narrowing the racial wealth gap.” Five Democrats on the House Financial Services Committee were among those who signed the letter: Rep. Joyce Beatty of Ohio, Rep. Alma Adams of North Carolina, Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rep. Ritchie Torres of New York and Rep. Nikema Williams of Georgia. The letter is the latest salvo in an unusually intense fight over the next leader of the OCC, which supervises institutions holding roughly 70% of the banking system's assets. Baradaran was said to be the front-runner among just a handful of candidates earlier this month, while American Banker reported this week that three additional names were under consideration: Kara Stein, a former member of the Securities and Exchange Commission; Sarah Bloom Raskin, formerly a Federal Reserve Board governor and deputy secretary of the Treasury; and Raphael Bostic, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. The letter praised Baradaran for “innovative policies” she has supported in recent years, including the 21st Century Homestead Act and postal banking. It also knocked, but did not name, some of her rivals for having ties to financial technology firms.

Q1 2021 Update: Unofficial Problem Bank list Increased to 67 Institutions -- The FDIC's official problem bank list is comprised of banks with a CAMELS rating of 4 or 5, and the list is not made public (just the number of banks and assets every quarter). Note: Bank CAMELS ratings are also not made public.CAMELS is the FDIC rating system, and stands for Capital adequacy, Asset quality, Management, Earnings, Liquidity and Sensitivity to market risk. The scale is from 1 to 5, with 1 being the strongest.As a substitute for the CAMELS ratings, surferdude808 is using publicly announced formal enforcement actions, and also media reports and company announcements that suggest to us an enforcement action is likely, to compile a list of possible problem banks in the public interest. Here is the unofficial problem bank list for Q1 2021. Here are the quarterly changes and a few comments from surferdude808: Update on the Unofficial Problem Bank List through March 26, 2020. Since the last update at the end of December 2020, the list increased by two to 67 institutions after five additions and three removals. Assets increased by $800 million to $59 billion, with the change including a $1.1 billion decrease from updated asset figures through December 31, 2020. A year ago, the list held 65 institutions with assets of $48.6 billion.Additions this month included Bank of the Orient, San Francisco, CA ($927 million); Southwestern National Bank, Houston, TX ($776 million); Lincoln 1st Bank, Lincoln Park, NJ ($314 million); Community First Bank, Maywood, NE ($127 million); and Spectra Bank, Fort Worth, TX ($92 million). Removals included Citizens Savings Bank and Trust Company, Nashville, TN ($112 million); The Morris County National Bank of Naples, Naples, TX ($94 million); and The First National Bank of Fleming, Fleming, CO ($25 million). Another change since year-end was the OCC issuing a Prompt Corrective Action order against The First National Bank and Trust Company of Vinita, Vinita, OK ($285 million).On February 23, 2021, the FDIC released third quarter results and an update on the Official Problem Bank List. In that release, the FDIC said there were 56 institutions with assets of $56 billion on the official list, compared with 56 institutions with assets of $53.9 billion at the third quarter of 2020.With the conclusion of the first quarter, we bring an updated transition matrix to detail how banks are transitioning off the Unofficial Problem Bank List. Since we first published the Unofficial Problem Bank List on August 7, 2009 with 389 institutions, 1,773 institutions have appeared on a weekly or monthly list since then. Only 3.8 percent of the banks that have appeared on a list remain today as 1,706 institutions have transitioned through the list. Departure methods include 1,005 action terminations, 411 failures, 271 mergers, and 19 voluntary liquidations. Of the 389 institutions on the first published list, only 3 or less than 1.0 percent, still have a troubled designation more than ten years later. The 411 failures represent 23.2 percent of the 1,773 institutions that have made an appearance on the list. This failure rate is well above the 10-12 percent rate frequently cited in media reports on the failure rate of banks on the FDIC's official list.

Wells Fargo Aiming To Have Employees Back To Offices By September 6 -- Iit looks as though Americans already have their hearts set on returning to normal life at some point during 2021. The same goes for small businesses, that are cautiously starting to re-open - and major corporations, who are beginning to require that employees start ebbing and flowing back to their respective offices. One such corporate entity is Wells Fargo, who announced on Tuesday this week that it plans on bringing its workers back to its offices after Labor Day, due to the "increasing availability of vaccines". It's almost like we have the pandemic under control, though don't tell our CDC director that. The bank says it is hoping for operations to return to normalcy after September 6, according to Reuters. The bank says it is still evaluating whether or not to allow certain businesses or functional subgroups to return to work before labor day. Wells Fargo says that about 200,000 employees have been working from home, and about 60,000 from offices, during the pandemic. They are following the footsteps of Goldman Sachs, who said early this month that he was hoping to have employees back in their respective offices by the summer. Now might be a great time for businesses to head back into the office, as we pointed out a couple weeks ago that Manhattan office rents have plunged to their lowest levels since 2018. In February the average asking rent fell for an eighth straight month to $73.12 a square foot, the lowest since March 2018. And ensuring that prices will stay low for a long time, at the same time vacant space continues to pile up. The office availability rate rose for a ninth consecutive month to 15.5%, a record in data going back to 2000, the brokerage said; the amount of space listed by tenants for sublease jumped by 1.1 million square feet. In a stark testament to the post-pandemic world, leases were signed for less than 1 million square feet of Manhattan office space last month, a whopping 51% drop from January. Not surprisingly, the five biggest agreements were in Midtown.

 Two bankers banned from industry in closely watched trade secret case - Two Wyoming bankers have been banned from the industry in a trade secret case that could have implications for others who defect from one bank to another. The Federal Reserve Board last week barred Mark A. Kiolbasa and Frank E. Smith from being involved in the affairs of any insured depository institution. The two men are former employees of Central Bank and Trust in Lander, Wyo., who later went to work for Farmers State Bank in Pine Bluff, Wyo. The Fed’s orders, which were announced Tuesday, delivered a harsher penalty than has traditionally happened in cases where bankers take confidential information from their former employer, according to lawyers who specialize in these cases. Typically, bank executives have faced civil penalties — but not the end of their banking careers — for violating state laws that govern the misappropriation of trade secrets. The Fed’s tough stance in the Wyoming case could deter bank employees from taking sensitive information from their old employer when they move to a new job. It also shows the potentially severe downside for banks that hire employees from a competitor. In 2018, Central Bank and Trust won judgments totaling more than $2 million against Kiolbasa and Smith after alleging that they misappropriated trade secrets. Later that year, the Fed sought to ban the two bankers from the industry, initiating a legal process before Administrative Law Judge Christopher McNeil. Last week, McNeil issued a 54-page ruling that sided with the Fed. While the two bankers were still employed by Central in 2013, they created a business plan about their interest in acquiring Farmers, according to the judge’s ruling. They also poached Central customers and eventually purchased equity interests in Farmers. In addition, after one of the bankers had left for Farmers but the other still worked for Central, they strategized about business opportunities that would benefit themselves or the bank where they both would eventually land, the judge found.

Where’s Gary Gensler? It’s Day 69 of the Biden Presidency and Wall Street’s Top Cop Has Yet to be Confirmed - Pam Martens --Biden’s nominee to Chair the Securities and Exchange Commission, Gary Gensler, has not been confirmed by a full vote in the Senate. Given that former President Trump’s SEC Chair, Jay Clayton, has left U.S. markets in their most perilous state since 1929, one would think that the Senate would be rushing to hold a vote to confirm Gensler. (Clayton had legally represented 8 of the 10 largest Wall Street banks in the three years before Trump nominated him to become SEC Chair. Clayton left the SEC after a controversial attempt at a coup at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.)After Gensler’s March 2 confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee, the Committee followed up with written questions. A number of Gensler’s answers to those questions are problematic with what some Senate Republicans wanted to hear. One unnamed questioner attempted to flush out where Gensler stands on the most rigged market structure since 1929. The question and response was as follows:

  • Banking Committee Question: “Can you commit to evaluate how to best promote competition between national securities exchanges, alternative trading systems (ATS) [Dark Pools], market makers, and broker-dealers engaged in internalization to benefit investors?”
  • Gensler’s Response: “Markets – and technology – are constantly changing. The overall U.S. equity market is a critical national asset that provides a vital mechanism for capital formation for firms and individuals; investment opportunities for Main Street; and economic growth. If confirmed, I will work with fellow Commissioners and SEC staff along with hearing from market participants on how best to promote transparency and competition in the equity markets. If confirmed, I would work with fellow Commissioners and SEC staff to examine market structure issues holistically to best maintain fair, orderly and efficient markets as many of the technical and economic issues of markets are highly interrelated.”If Gensler is going to leave the current rigged market structure in place in the name of promoting competition among market players and to appease right-wing Republicans on the Senate Banking Committee, all Americans and the U.S. economy will be the giant loser in the end.

Someone on the Senate Banking Committee is likely getting big campaign donations from one or more big players in the field of money market mutual funds. Those questions and responses went as follows:

  • Banking Committee Question: “If confirmed, will you ensure new SEC regulations for money market funds, if any, will be narrowly tailored and will not eliminate or significantly reduce the viability of money market funds as an investment?”
  • Gensler’s Response: “Money market mutual funds are an important part of our financial ecosystem with nearly $5 trillion in investments. The regulatory framework governing such funds should ensure access to investors for this important product while also ensuring stability in our financial system. If confirmed, I will study SEC regulations adopted in the last decade to determine if they are working towards these goals.”

Clearly the SEC is incompetent at regulating money market funds. Money market funds have received massive government bailouts twice in the past 12 years.“Cost-benefit analysis” is code by some Republicans on the Senate Banking Committee (whose political campaigns rely on funding from Wall Street, their big law firms and hedge funds) to stymie regulation of Wall Street by demanding cost benefit analysis of any planned changes. Clearly, the collapse of the U.S. economy in 2008 at the hands of Wall Street and more than a decade of sub-par U.S. GDP growth should have ended the nonsense around cost-benefit analysis. And yet, it persists by Republicans with a straight face. This was another of the written questions posed to Gensler.

  • Banking Committee Question: “I want to discuss guardrails on Systemically Important Financial Institution (SIFI) designations by the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC): (a) Should SIFI designations allow for due process, including a clear process for both designation and de-designation? (b) Should they incorporate robust economic cost-benefit analysis? (c) Should they first explore an activities-based approach to regulating a systemic risk, before considering a firm-specific SIFI designation?”
  • Gensler’s Response: “FSOC designations should follow the statute as set forward in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 and any guidance or rulemakings issued therein. As I understand it, the FSOC process allows for multiple avenues for input for non-bank financial firms both during the multi-stage designation process and via established processes to de-designate, as evidenced by de-designations in the recent past. In making designation decisions, economic analysis is an important tool to consider. Further, Dodd-Frank provides for both entity designations and activities-based designations, as Congress recognized that both approaches are sometimes useful. Depending on the unique circumstance, either or both approaches may be warranted.”

Banks suffer major losses after $30 billion fire sale at hedge fund Archegos --Major banks such as Credit Suisse and Nomura said Monday that a fire sale of assets at a U.S. hedge fund would affect their earnings this quarter. The sell-off at Archegos Capital Management stemmed from a margin default, meaning it was unable to maintain minimum asset values for accounts that invest with borrowed money. Archegos was reportedly forced to sell off assets reportedly in the range of $30 billion, flooding the market with stocks and bringing down prices. Banking stocks took a hit in early Monday trading. “While at this time it is premature to quantify the exact size of the loss resulting from this exit, it could be highly significant and material to our first quarter results, notwithstanding the positive trends announced in our trading statement earlier this month,” Credit Suisse said. Japan’s Nomura Holdings warned of “significant loss” estimated though other banks, such as Goldman Sachs, said their losses from the event would be immaterial. A company spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

Shades of 2008: Derivative Bets Blow Up Archegos Hedge Fund; Inflict Billions in Losses on Global Banks -- Pam Martens -The Archegos Capital Management hedge fund implosion has, thus far, delivered billions of dollars in losses to the shareholders of global banks Credit Suisse and Nomura, whose market values have plummeted; done serious reputational damage to Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, both of whom are allowed to own federally-insured banks even after they came close to blowing themselves up in 2008 and surely would have without gargantuan secret bailouts from the Federal Reserve; cut the market value of ViacomCBS in half; dropped the market value of Discovery by 40 percent; shaved billions of dollars off the market value of major Wall Street banks yesterday as rumors ran wild about who is hiding losses; and raised critical questions, once again, about the competency of the Federal Reserve to supervise these federally-insured trading casinos. What has been pieced together thus far, and not denied by any of the parties involved, is as follows: After pleading guilty to wire fraud involving insider trading in 2012 on behalf of another hedge fund he founded, Sung Kook “Bill” Hwang sometime thereafter quietly founded a “family office,” a hedge fund that is allowed to decide for itself if it needs to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission. There are no filings with the SEC to suggest it knows Archegos exists or how it operates and there are no 13-F filings with the SEC to show the dangerous levels of stock exposure and leverage it had amassed through derivatives contracts with some of the biggest banks on Wall Street. This, of course, raises the question as to just how much of this booming stock market is based on secret derivative contracts between dodgy hedge funds and federally-insured banks.Bloomberg News reported yesterday that Archegos may have leveraged $5 to $10 billion in assets up to $50 billion in exposure. Instead of buying stock outright or buying stock options on exchanges, according to Bloomberg News and other media outlets, Archegos was using private derivative contracts (over-the-counter) to obtain tens of billions of dollars in stock exposure. A big chunk of that exposure was in shares of ViacomCBS and Discovery as well as Chinese tech stocks. As those positions had to be unwound as Archegos was unable to meet margin calls, ViacomCBS tanked over 50 percent with Discovery down more than 40 percent. (See chart above.)According to the Financial Times, the five global banks known thus far to have supplied leverage to Archegos are Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, Nomura and UBS. The Wall Street Journal reports that Deutsche Bank was also involved in dumping stock related to Archegos’ holdings.Nomura has released a statement acknowledging a potential $2 billion in losses. Credit Suisse has released this statement:“A significant US-based hedge fund defaulted on margin calls made last week by Credit Suisse and certain other banks. Following the failure of the fund to meet these margin commitments, Credit Suisse and a number of other banks are in the process of exiting these positions. While at this time it is premature to quantify the exact size of the loss resulting from this exit, it could be highly significant and material to our first quarter results, notwithstanding the positive trends announced in our trading statement earlier this month. We intend to provide an update on this matter in due course.” As of 8:30 this morning, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and UBS have not publicly commented on any potential losses to their respective firms.

What happened with Archegos Capital? – Alexis Goldstein - Last week, ViacomCBS positively tanked, losing half its value in more than a week. But Viacom's woes turned into a $33 billion, market-wide asset liquidiation event thanks to the holdings of a family fund Archegos Capital, run by Sung Kook (“Bill”) Hwang. Why the troubles at Archegos led to market-wide fire sales is due to a combination of things:

  • What Arechegos was trading (derivatives that mimic stocks, called Total Return Swaps), and the leverage Archegos employed in doing these trades;
  • Who Archegos was trading with (a number of large banks);
  • The lack of disclosures. Many banks were on the same side of the same trade, which exacerbated the firesale. But that fact appeared largely unknown till it all went bust.

Reporting indicates that Archegos' long positions were concentrated in about eight names:

  1. ViacomCBS (VIAC)
  2. Discovery Inc. (DISCA)
  3. Tencent Music Entertainment Group (TME)
  4. GSX Techedu Inc. (GSX)
  5. Baidu Inc. (BIDU)
  6. Farfetch Ltd (FTCH)
  7. Iqiyi Inc. (IQ)
  8. Vipshop Holdings Ltd. (VIPS)

But Arechgos wasn't buying stocks in these companies. Instead, perhaps in order to avoid the kinds of disclosures that are required when you hold a certain amount of stocks, Archegos used derivatives that mimick the performance of stocks, but don't have the same disclosure requirements. One of the derivatives they used are called Total Return Swaps (TRS), also known as an "equity swap." Sidebar: What is a Total Return Swap (TRS)?  […] Archegos had what's called a prime broker relationship with a number of major banks, including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, UBS and Nomura.  Sidebar: What's a prime broker? […] Reporting has shown that Arechgos held Total Return Swaps on the eight stocks listed above with all of its prime brokers. In order to manage their risk, the banks demand collateral to demonstrate that Archegos wouldn't go under should their trade move against them. When ViacomCBS shares started tanking, one (or more) of Archegos' prime brokers hit them with a margin call  – which they couldn't meet.  When Archegos failed to meet its margin call, the banks with trading relationships with Archegos needed to begin to unwind the massive positions. But since they all needed to sell shares of the same eight stocks, there was no way to do it without moving the market.And move the market they did! Here's the daily charts of just four of the stocks (BIDU, VIAC, TME, GSX) that Archegos had derivative positions in, over the last week:  Archegos counterparties, once they had a handle on what was happening, actually met to try and figure out how they could all offload giant blocks of the same stocks in a way that would disrupt the market the least.  The Financial Times reported: representatives from its trading partners Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, UBS and Nomura held a meeting with Archegos to discuss an orderly wind-down of troubled trades.But it seems Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs moved first, perhaps trying to sell before the other banks did, and stem their losses as the market began to move against the names they all needed to offload:“It was like a game of chicken,” one person said. By Friday morning, any hopes of co-ordination had been snuffed out and the floodgates opened when Goldman began pitching global investors on billions of dollars of Archegos-linked stocks. Morgan Stanley joined hours later, and the two sold roughly $19bn in big block trades that day alone, according to the people.

Billions in Secret Derivatives at Center of Archegos Blowup -- The forced liquidation of more than $20 billion in holdings linked to Bill Hwang’s investment firm is drawing attention to the covert financial instruments he used to build large stakes in companies. Much of the leverage used by Hwang’s Archegos Capital Management was provided by banks including Nomura Holdings Inc. and Credit Suisse Group AG through swaps and so-called contracts-for-difference, according to people with direct knowledge of the deals. It means Archegos may never actually have owned most of the underlying securities -- if any at all. While investors who own a stake of more than 5% in a U.S.-listed company usually have to disclose their holdings and subsequent transactions, that’s not the case with positions built through the type of derivatives apparently used by Archegos. The products, which are transacted off exchanges, allow managers like Hwang to amass exposure to publicly-traded companies without having to declare it. The swift unwinding of Archegos has reverberated across the globe, after banks such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley forced Hwang’s firm to sell billions of dollars in investments accumulated through highly leveraged bets. The selloff roiled stocks from Baidu Inc. to ViacomCBS Inc., and prompted Nomura and Credit Suisse to disclose that they face potentially significant losses on their exposure. One reason for the widening fallout is the borrowed funds that investors use to magnify their bets: a margin call occurs when the market goes against a large, leveraged position, forcing the hedge fund to deposit more cash or securities with its broker to cover any losses. Archegos was probably required to deposit only a small percentage of the total value of trades. The chain of events set off by this massive unwinding is yet another reminder of the role that hedge funds play in the global capital markets. A hedge fund short squeeze during a Reddit-fueled frenzy for Gamestop Corp. and other shares earlier this year spurred a $6 billion loss for Gabe Plotkin’s Melvin Capital and sparked scrutiny from U.S. regulators and politicians.

Credit Suisse Bid for Tidy Archegos Fix Ends With Banks Brawling -- Alarms were blaring inside Wall Street’s corridors of power in the middle of last week, as executives realized they might be facing the biggest hedge fund blowup since Long-Term Capital Management in the 1990s. Global investment banks, gathering in a hastily arranged call, needed a swift truce to deal with Bill Hwang’s Archegos Capital Management if they were to head off billions of dollars in losses for banks and a potential chain reaction across markets. Yet by Friday, it was everyone for themselves. The forced liquidation that sent bellwether stocks tumbling last week and continues to send shock waves across capital markets, was preceded by bickering in the highest rungs of international finance that quickly devolved into finger-pointing and now fury, according to people with knowledge of the situation. Banks are just starting to tally the carnage. So far, Credit Suisse Group AG and Nomura Holdings Inc. have told shareholders their businesses face “significant” losses. Goldman Sachs Group Inc., ahead of the pack on unloading positions, is telling investors the impact on its financial results will probably be immaterial. Deutsche Bank AG said it escaped too. Morgan Stanley, another big player that was still shopping blocks of stock as late as Sunday night, has yet to specify any toll. Emissaries from several of the world’s biggest prime brokerages tried to head off the chaos by holding a call with Hwang before the drama spilled into public view Friday morning. The idea, pushed by Credit Suisse, was to reach some sort of temporary standstill to figure out how to untie positions without sparking panic, the people said. But any agreement was elusive, and by Thursday night, some banks had shot off notices of default to Archegos to seize collateral and potentially shop it to buyers to contain the banks’ potential losses, the people said. Yet even then, it wasn’t clear when terms with Archegos would allow sales to proceed, one of the people said.Soon came the finger-pointing over who was breaking ranks, the people said. Some emerged from the talks suspicious that Credit Suisse wasn’t fully committing to freezing sales. By early Friday, rival banks were taking umbrage after hearing that Goldman planned to sell some positions, ostensibly to assist Archegos. Morgan Stanley began drawing public attention with block trades. Representatives for the banks declined to comment.

One of World’s Greatest Hidden Fortunes Is Wiped Out in Days - From his perch high above Midtown Manhattan, just across from Carnegie Hall, Bill Hwang was quietly building one of the world’s greatest fortunes. Even on Wall Street, few ever noticed him -- until suddenly, everyone did. Hwang and his private investment firm, Archegos Capital Management, are now at the center of one of the biggest margin calls of all time -- a multibillion-dollar fiasco involving secretive market bets that were dangerously leveraged and unwound in a blink. Hwang’s most recent ascent can be pieced together from stocks dumped by banks in recent days -- ViacomCBS Inc., Discovery Inc. GSX Techedu Inc., Baidu Inc. -- all of which had soared this year, sometimes confounding traders who couldn’t fathom why. One part of Hwang’s portfolio, which has been traded in blocks since Friday by Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo & Co., was worth almost $40 billion last week. Bankers reckon that Archegos’s net capital -- essentially Hwang’s wealth -- had reached north of $10 billion. And as disposals keep emerging, estimates of his firm’s total positions keep climbing: tens of billions, $50 billion, even more than $100 billion. It evaporated in mere days. “I’ve never seen anything like this -- how quiet it was, how concentrated, and how fast it disappeared,” said Mike Novogratz, a career macro investor and former partner at Goldman Sachs who’s been trading since 1994. “This has to be one of the single greatest losses of personal wealth in history.” Late Monday in New York, Archegos broke days of silence on the episode. “This is a challenging time for the family office of Archegos Capital Management, our partners and employees,” Karen Kessler, a spokesperson for the firm, said in an emailed statement. “All plans are being discussed as Mr. Hwang and the team determine the best path forward.” The cascade of trading losses has reverberated from New York to Zurich to Tokyo and beyond, and leaves myriad unanswered questions, including the big one: How could someone take such big risks, facilitated by so many banks, under the noses of regulators the world over?

SEC Opens Probe Into Archegos Chaos, Deutsche Bank Confirms 'Quick Sale' To Avoid All Losses  --As more details from the now infamous debacle surrounding Tiger cub Archegos, whose massive derivative-based exposures spilled out into the open and transformed into the biggest and most painful rolling margin call to hit Wall Street since Lehman, we now know that at least six Prime Brokers scrambled to unwind the biggest hedge fund blowup since LTCM without hammering the overall market.To "make a living in this business... be first, be smarter, or cheat..."We previously noted that Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs were the "first" to break ranks and rejected the efforts of Credit Suisse's emissaries who tried to create consensus to unwind the positions without sparking a panic.As we now  also know, Nomura and Credit Suisse which dithered and were unsure what to do, seeing their stock crushed and their counterparty risk hedge premia explode higher. And today we get confirmation that Deutsche Bank was among the early game-theoretical defectors, as Bloomberg reports the big German bank sold about $4 billion of holdings seized in the implosion of Archegos Capital Management in one large private deal on Friday. It’s unclear whether Deutsche Bank’s sale was to one firm or a consortium. If it was a single buyer, it would be the largest known transaction to emerge from the messy unwind of Hwang’s huge portfolio. It also brings to almost $30 billion the known value of Archegos investments that have been liquidated so far. And now, as is usual after a a major market blowup, The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has initiated a preliminary investigation into Bill Hwang over his leveraged trades that have roiled Wall Street.

Morgan Stanley Has Been Strangely Quiet on Its Exposure to Archegos Capital, the Hedge Fund that Blew Up Last Week. Here’s Why. By Pam Martens -   Morgan Stanley has landed in the middle of one of the biggest hedge fund blowups since the financial crisis of 2008, raising serious questions about how it manages risk.Adding to the embarrassment for both Morgan Stanley and its bank holding company supervisor, the Federal Reserve, the Chairman and CEO of Morgan Stanley, James Gorman, sits on the Board of Directors of the New York Fed, to whom the Fed has outsourced much of its oversight of the Wall Street banks.A look at Morgan Stanley’s $647 billion in stock portfolio holdings that it filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission for the quarter ending December 31, 2020 explains why Morgan Stanley has been so strangely silent as the Archegos scandal has played out.Morgan Stanley held significant positions in all of the stocks press reports say were being mass liquidated in recent days because the hedge fund, Archegos Capital Management, could not meet its margin calls with its bankers, which included Morgan Stanley. The banks had allowed Archegos to leverage itself up anywhere from 8 to 1 to 20 to 1 according to press reports. Those stocks included the U.S. media conglomerate ViacomCBS; U.S. TV channel operator Discovery; Chinese Internet company Baidu; Chinese online-tutoring company GSX Techedu; Chinese online discount store VIPShop Holdings; Chinese video site iQIYI; luxury-goods online retailer Farfetch; and streaming company Tencent Music Entertainment, as well as potentially others. The fact that Morgan Stanley’s portfolio held significant positions in the same stocks as Archegos Capital is likely explained by widespread media reports that the hedge fund had gained heavily leveraged exposure to these stocks not because it had purchased them outright or on margin but because it had entered into equity derivatives (swaps) with multiple banks that included Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, and Nomura. Other global banks including Wells Fargo, UBS, and Deutsche Bank were also involved with Archegos, although the full extent of their relationship is not yet known. Nomura has released a statement acknowledging a potential $2 billion in losses. Credit Suisse released a statement saying that its loss “could be highly significant and material to our first quarter results.” Wells Fargo released this statement: “We had a prime brokerage relationship with Archegos. We were well collateralized at all times over the last week and no longer have any exposure. We did not experience losses related to closing out our exposure.” Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Morgan Stanley had “sold 45 million shares of ViacomCBS Inc. Sunday night,” ostensibly to avoid further declines when the U.S. market opened on Monday.According to Morgan Stanley’s 13F SEC filing, it held 43.2 million shares of ViacomCBS Class B with a value of $1.6 billion as of December 31, 2020. How many of those shares were connected to an Archegos equity swap contract is unknown. How much Morgan Stanley lost on the sale of those shares is also unknown. What is known is that ViacomCBS lost over 50 percent of its market value between Wednesday of last week and its closing price on Monday. Another potentially significant loss came from the shares of the Chinese online tutoring company, GSX Techedu. Morgan Stanley’s 13F filing with the SEC shows that it owned 14.66 million ADRs of the company as of December 31, 2020, potentially connected to an equity swap with Archegos. At that time, the position had a market value of $758.3 million based on a closing price of $51.71 on December 31. The GSX ADRs closed yesterday at $33.29, a decline of 36 percent from the end of last year.

Archegos Blowup Calls Attention to Questionable Listing Standards at New York Stock Exchange - Pam Martens - We rarely make predictions but we’re going to make one with confidence today. The New York Stock Exchange’s efforts to capture more market share of the IPO business by listing highly questionable Chinese companies and blank-check companies (SPACs) with no prior business history is going to inevitably blow up and cause long-term reputational damage to an institution that is indelibly linked to U.S. markets.  Despite U.S. markets now showing all the earmarks of unbridled corruption fueled by insatiable greed, anti-regulatory Republicans in Congress are still calling U.S. markets “the envy of the world” and demanding a hands-off approach. Rather than actually being “the envy of the world,” the rest of the planet actually remembers that it was inadequately regulated U.S. markets that blew up the global economy in 2008.  RLX Technology, an IPO (Initial Public Offering) that had its debut on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday, January 22 of this year, is Exhibit Number 1 for what we are talking about.  RLX Technology is one of the stocks that contributed to the implosion of the hedge fund Archegos Capital Management, which has resulted in billions of dollars in losses at global banks – with billions more yet to be announced.  RLX Technology has been in business three years. It sells something that society needs less of, not more of. The company calls itself an “e-vapor company in China” catering to “adult smokers’ needs.” The prospectus for its IPO is Orwellian in terms of the panoply of risks cited to its future business prospects. And there is also this fun fact in the prospectus: “We have identified a material weakness in our internal control over financial reporting.” “The material weakness identified relates to lack of sufficient competent financial reporting and accounting personnel with appropriate understanding of U.S. GAAP to design and implement formal period-end financial reporting controls and procedures to address complex U.S. GAAP technical accounting issues, and to prepare and review the consolidated financial statements and related disclosures in accordance with U.S. GAAP and financial reporting requirements set forth by the Securities and Exchange Commission, or the SEC.”Nonetheless, the New York Stock Exchange listed this company and it began trading on January 22 of this year. The IPO was priced at $12 a share and the stock, notwithstanding all of those risks cited about its future prospects, closed at $29.51 on its first day of trading – an increase of 145.92 percent – which gave the three-year old company a valuation of $46 billion. At that time, its most recent year of reported earnings had come in at $7 million for 2019. The international wire service, Reuters, reported that “Two of China’s regulators plan to bring the rules governing the sale of e-cigarettes and other new tobacco products in line with those for ordinary cigarettes.” Prior to that announcement, shares in RLX Technology had been trading between 4 and 5 million shares a day. By the close of trading on Monday, March 22, the stock had traded 107.47 million shares, closed at $10.15 a share, losing 48 percent of its price from the prior Friday’s close. On Wednesday, March 24, another round of selling pressure erupted with 53.4 million shares changing hands. The stock closed at $8.94. Exactly how significant a role shares of RLX Technology or equity derivative contracts on it played in the crash of the hedge fund Archegos Capital Management is still unknown. What is known, however, about most Chinese companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange is that there is very little transparency about the quality of their audits. The Securities and Exchange Commission is completely aware of the risks to American investors in allowing these opaque Chinese companies to continue to list and trade in the U.S.

Ponzis Go Boom!!! - For the past few years, I have been critical of the Ponzi Sector. To me, these are businesses that sell a dollar for 80 cents and hope to make it up in volume.. In fact, many of the Ponzi Sector companies seem to have declining economics at scale—largely the result of intense competition with other Ponzi companies who also have negligible costs of capital.  I recently wrote about how interest rates are on the rise. If capital will have a cost to it, I suspect that the funding shuts off to the Ponzi Sector—buying unprofitable revenue growth becomes less attractive if you have other options. Besides, when you can no longer use presumed negative interest rates in your DCF, these businesses have no value. I believe the top is now finally in for the Ponzi Sector and a multi-year sector rotation is starting. […]   I bring this all up, because the SPAC market is in the process of detonating and it will take the Ponzi Sector with it. A typical SPAC deal involves a few hundred million dollars raised for the SPAC trust—this is the only real float. Then a few hundred million more is raised for the PIPE—these guys are buying at $10 because they plan to flip for a gain as soon as the registration statement becomes effective—which is often a few weeks after the deal closes. When a company merges with a SPAC, billions in newly printed shares are given to the former owners—those shares start to unlock a few months later in various tranches. Finally, the promoters behind the SPAC get to sell.When you look at a pre-merger deal trading at a big premium to the $10 trust value, you’re looking at an iceberg. There might be ten or twenty restricted shares for every free trading share—all of these guys desperately want out. It’s a game theory exercise—how do you find enough bag-holders without destroying the price? Hence, part of why the current price is determined by an artificially restricted float and the unlocks come in tranches. As restricted shares come unlocked, the promoters lose control of the float and the house of cards collapses.Part of the hilarity of SPACs is that the promoters claim to be aligned with shareholders because they exit last in terms of unlock tranches. What’s left unsaid is that their shares have almost a zero-cost basis—hence when they sell out at well under $10, it’s still all profit.Meanwhile the acquired company insiders often have an even lower cost basis because they founded the company at a negligible cost, there were bidding wars by various SPACs which drove the valuations to nosebleed levels and the acquisition targets are often mostly fake anyway.

Debit's on a roll. Are small merchants getting rocked- - The dramatic shift to credit and debit card spending that occurred last year was a boon for cards and mobile wallets, but it left merchants paying more to handle payments that had previously been made with cash. It was especially a double-edged sword in Visa's case; the card brand benefited from this shift, but also lost out on a substantial amount of travel spending once consumers and businesses entered lockdown. Debit fees were already under pressure from the Durbin amendment to 2010's Dodd-Frank law, which capped swipe fees and instituted a requirement to allow merchants to use more than one network to route debit payments. Now the issue is whether that law has kept up with the times. “The big merchants certainly are using so-called smart routing to use PIN-debit networks when it is advantageous to them, but many smaller merchants don’t have the tech staff or the knowledge of payments to even understand their options,” said Sarah Grotta, director of debit and alternative products advisory service at Mercator Advisory Group. The Justice Department is looking into Visa's debit card practices. While Visa could technically be in compliance with the Durbin amendment, merchants hope regulatory pressure could motivate Visa — which has the lion’s share of the debit card market — to revise its practices in merchants' favor. Visa’s global debit volume increased 21% in the three months ended Dec. 31, 2020, over the same period a year earlier, while credit card spending volume declined 3%, Visa CEO Vasant Prabhu told analysts earlier this year. The timing isn’t great for Visa to defend itself against fresh antitrust allegations, just four months after the Justice Department declared Visa a “monopolist” in online debit when it sued the card network, ultimately forcing Visa to abandon its proposed $5.3 billion acquisition of the data aggregator Plaid. “Visa is back on its heels after the debacle that occurred in their attempt to acquire Plaid, in which Visa implicated itself in documents found by the DoJ showing Visa was at least considering some anticompetitive action,” Grotta said. With smaller merchants struggling to recover from the pandemic and online debit transaction volume persisting well above pre-pandemic levels, the Justice Department could pressure Visa to open a path to help small businesses lower their processing costs, Grotta said. It’s not just smaller merchants complaining about Visa misusing its market power to drive more online debit volume to its network. Larger merchants with deeper technical resources have other complaints about how Visa influences debit card routing for both online signature (PINless) debit versus lower-cost debit transactions requiring a PIN. “Visa is pressuring larger card issuers to not enable PINless debit through various routing volume agreements and other incentive contracts,” said Robert Yeakel, director of government relations for the National Grocers Association, a Washington-based nonprofit representing more than 1,500 independent supermarket operators.

Visa, Mastercard face new pushback in $5.5 billion retailer suit --Visa and Mastercard are facing fresh opposition from U.S. retailers in a long-running legal fight over the fees merchants pay each time consumers swipe their credit or debit card at checkout. The Retail Industry Leaders Association and the National Retail Federation want to join a federal lawsuit filed in 2005 that led Visa, Mastercard and some big banks to agree to pay $5.54 billion to settle the case. While the suit is still in the midst of appeals, the industry’s two largest trade groups said the class of merchants the existing plaintiffs are seeking to certify is too broad and would prevent retailers who don’t like the settlement terms from opting out and taking their own legal action. According to a filing Friday in Brooklyn, N.Y., the trade groups said they’d tried negotiating with the court-appointed counsel in the case beginning in mid-2017, but those talks have faltered in recent years. The last such meeting was in April 2019, they said. The groups, whose members have more than 100,000 store locations and generate trillions of dollars in annual sales, asked the judge for permission to become parties in the lawsuit. “The proposed class is entirely too broad and in effect would prohibit retailers from pursing their own grievances against card networks,” Deborah White, senior executive vice president and general counsel for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, said in a statement on Monday. “We are asking the court to recognize us as parties after our repeated attempts to work with court-appointed counsel were rebuffed. We are particularly concerned that the current class would not represent our interests.” A representatives for Visa did not have immediate comment when reached by email while a Mastercard spokesman declined to comment. The two networks set the fees that merchants are charged each time a consumer swipes their card at checkout, though most of the fee is passed on to the bank that issues the card.

CFPB ends Trump-era regulatory relief tied to pandemic— The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is rescinding seven policy statements issued last year under the Trump administration that gave flexibility to financial institutions dealing with fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. The agency said effective April 1 it would undo relief from resolving credit card billing disputes, flexibility on exams and enforcement, and a reprieve from submitting loan data under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, among other policies. “Providing regulatory flexibility to companies should not come at the expense of consumers,” acting CFPB director Dave Uejio said in a news release. “Because many financial institutions have developed more robust remote capabilities and demonstrated improved operations, it is no longer prudent to maintain these flexibilities. The CFPB’s first priority, today and always, is protecting consumers from harm.” The CFPB added in the release that by winding down the seven policy statements, the agency “is providing notice that it intends to exercise the full scope of the supervisory and enforcement authority provided under the Dodd-Frank Act.” The policy decisions made under former CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger were published between March 26 and June 3 of last year and offered supervisory and enforcement relief to institutions in light of the pandemic. Among the policies the agency is walking back is guidance to institutions that the CFPB would take into account any COVID-19-induced staffing shortages or lack or resources in its supervision and enforcement efforts. In that guidance, the CFPB also said it would “be sensitive to good-faith efforts demonstrably designed to assist consumers.” A month later, it conveyed the same message to consumer reporting agencies. It is now rescinding both statements.

 CFPB poised to reinstate tough stance on payday lenders - The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is giving its clearest signal yet that a 2020 regulation easing standards for payday lenders is in jeopardy, despite efforts already in motion by the industry to implement the Trump administration rule. Acting CFPB Director Dave Uejio — appointed by the Biden administration to lead the agency following Kathy Kraninger's resignation — offered his most forceful comments to date on the 2020 rule, which eliminated underwriting requirements for small-dollar lenders. Uejio stated in a blog post that the bureau's new leadership supports the “ability-to-repay” standards, originally established in a previous 2017 rule that was unwound by Kraninger, signaling that the agency will reinstate them. But he went even further by suggesting that the CFPB plans to crack down on payday and auto title lenders by using its enforcement authority under the Dodd-Frank Act to punish companies that violate the federal prohibition on “unfair, deceptive or abusive acts or practices.” “The CFPB is acutely aware of consumer harms in the small dollar lending market, and is particularly concerned with any lender’s business model that is dependent on consumers’ inability to repay their loans,” Uejio said. "Years of research by the CFPB found the vast majority of this industry’s revenue came from consumers who could not afford to repay their loans, with most short-term loans in reborrowing chains of 10 or more." Uejio made the comments last week, just a day after the CFPB filed a motion accompanying a lawsuit challenging the 2020 payday rule. Though the agency appears intent to overturn the rule, the CFPB's motion argued the plaintiff, the nonprofit National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders, lacks standing to bring the lawsuit because its members are not regulated by the CFPB. In explaining why the CFPB filed the motion to dismiss, Uejio stressed that the bureau continues to push for the ability-to-repay standard in underwriting. “The Bureau had a legal obligation to respond to the lawsuit,” Uejio said. “The Bureau’s filing should not be regarded as an indication that the Bureau is satisfied with the status quo in this market. To the contrary, the Bureau believes that the harms identified by the 2017 rule still exist, and will use the authority provided by Congress to address these harms, including through vigorous market monitoring, supervision, enforcement, and, if appropriate, rulemaking.” Some experts said that until the bureau takes further action, payday and auto lenders can still rely on last year’s rulemaking that rescinded ability-to-repay requirements on small-dollar loans of 45 days or less. “The industry relies on validly adopted regulations, including the 2020 repeal, and is entitled to arrange its affairs in accordance with those regulations and not to be cowed by the blog entries of an interim director,” said Hilary Miller, a Greenwich, Conn., attorney representing payday lenders and past president of the Payday Loan Bar Association. The CFPB also may use its enforcement authority to aggressively pursue UDAAP violations in areas other than underwriting such as marketing, debt collection, or dealing with limited-English-proficiency borrowers.

Mortgage Firms Warned to Prepare for a ‘Tidal Wave’ of Distress - Mortgage companies could face penalties if they don’t take steps to prevent a deluge of foreclosures that threatens to hit the housing market later this year, a U.S. regulator said Thursday.  The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau warning is tied to forbearance relief that’s allowed million of borrowers to delay their mortgage payments due to the pandemic. To avoid what the bureau called “avoidable foreclosures” when the relief lapses, mortgage servicers should start reaching out to affected homeowners now to advise them on ways they can modify their loans. “There is a tidal wave of distressed homeowners who will need help,” Dave Uejio, the CFPB’s acting director, said in a statement. “Servicers who put struggling families first have nothing to fear from our oversight, but we will hold accountable those who cause harm to homeowners and families.” In a separate compliance bulletin released Thursday, the CFPB said that companies “that are unable to adequately manage loss mitigation can expect the bureau to take enforcement or supervisory action.” More than 2 million borrowers as of January had either postponed their payments or failed to make them for at least three months, the bureau said. Once government-authorized forbearance plans begin to end in September, hundreds of thousands of people may need assistance getting back on track.

Fannie Mae: Mortgage Serious Delinquency Rate Decreased in February --Fannie Mae reported that the Single-Family Serious Delinquency decreased to 2.76% in February, from 2.80% in January. The serious delinquency rate is up from 0.65% in February 2020. These are mortgage loans that are "three monthly payments or more past due or in foreclosure".The Fannie Mae serious delinquency rate peaked in February 2010 at 5.59% following the housing bubble, and peaked at 3.32% in August 2020 during the pandemic.By vintage, for loans made in 2004 or earlier (2% of portfolio), 5.90% are seriously delinquent (up from 5.87% in January). For loans made in 2005 through 2008 (2% of portfolio), 10.01% are seriously delinquent (up from 9.98%), For recent loans, originated in 2009 through 2021 (96% of portfolio), 2.29% are seriously delinquent (down from 2.32%). So Fannie is still working through a few poor performing loans from the bubble years.Mortgages in forbearance are counted as delinquent in this monthly report, but they will not be reported to the credit bureaus. This is very different from the increase in delinquencies following the housing bubble.   Lending standards have been fairly solid over the last decade, and most of these homeowners have equity in their homes - and they will be able to restructure their loans once they are employed.

MBA Survey: "Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Decreases to 4.96%" --Note: This is as of March 21st.  From the MBA: Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Decreases to 4.96%: The Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) latest Forbearance and Call Volume Survey revealed that the total number of loans now in forbearance decreased by 9 basis points from 5.05% of servicers’ portfolio volume in the prior week to 4.96% as of March 21, 2021. According to MBA’s estimate, 2.5 million homeowners are in forbearance plans....“The share of loans in forbearance decreased for the fourth straight week, dropping below 5 percent for the first time in a year. New forbearance requests remained at their lowest level since last March, and the pace of exits increased,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “More than 17 percent of borrowers in forbearance extensions have now exceeded the 12-month mark.”Fratantoni added, “Many homeowners need this support, even as there are increasing signs that the pace of economic activity is picking up as the vaccine rollout continues. Those who have an ongoing hardship due to the pandemic and want to extend their forbearance beyond the 12-month point need to contact their servicer. Servicers cannot automatically extend forbearance terms without the borrower’s consent.”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 (#) remained flat relative to the prior week at 0.05%, the lowest level since the week ending March 15, 2020."

 Black Knight: Number of Homeowners in COVID-19-Related Forbearance Plans Decreased - Note: Both Black Knight and the MBA (Mortgage Bankers Association) are putting out weekly estimates of mortgages in forbearance.This data is as of March 30th.From Black Knight: Servicers Continue to Work Through Forbearance Plans as U.S. Enters Fifth Consecutive Week of Improvement: The country saw yet another week of forbearance improvement this week, with active plans falling by 33,000 (-1.3%). This marks the fifth consecutive week of improvement and the longest such stretch since September 2020.Weekly declines were seen across investor classes, with GSE plans down 15,000, FHA/VA plans down 12,000, and plan volumes among portfolio/PLS mortgages falling by 6,000 for the week. This week’s improvement has pushed the number of active plans down by 172,000 (-6.3%) from last month, the largest such M/M improvement since November 2020. As of March 30, there are now 2.54 million active forbearance plans, representing 4.8% of all active mortgages.  As anticipated, these improvements were driven by the large volume of forbearance plan reviews taking place in recent weeks. Entering March, 1.2 million plans were scheduled for review for removal/extension during the month; as of March 30, some 300,000 such scheduled expirations remain, with another 655,000 on tap for April. These numbers suggest we could see continued improvement in coming weeks as servicers continue to review plans with scheduled expirations for removal or extension.We’ll have another forbearance update published here on this blog next Friday, April 9. The number of loans in forbearance has slowly declined over the last few months.

 MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest Weekly Survey From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly Survey: Mortgage applications decreased 2.2 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending March 26, 2021. ... The Refinance Index decreased 3 percent from the previous week and was 32 percent lower than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 2 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 1 percent compared with the previous week and was 39 percent higher than the same week one year ago. “After seven consecutive weeks of increasing mortgage rates, the 30-year fixed rate declined 3 basis points to 3.33 percent, which is still almost half a percentage point higher than the start of this year. Mortgage applications for refinances and home purchases both declined, but purchase activity was still convincingly higher than the pandemic-induced drop seen a year ago, as well as up 6 percent from the same week in March 2019,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Many prospective homebuyers this spring are feeling the effects of higher rates and rapidly accelerating home prices. Record-low inventory is pushing home-price growth at double the rate from a year ago, and even above the 10 percent growth rates seen in 2005. The housing market is in desperate need of more inventory to cool price growth and preserve affordability.”  Added Kan, “Higher mortgage rates continue to shut down refinance activity, as the pool of borrowers who can benefit from a refinance further shrinks.”... The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($548,250 or less) decreased to 3.33 percent from 3.36 percent, with points decreasing to 0.39 from 0.42 (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

CDC extends coronavirus eviction ban through June 30 -The Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday announced that it has extended a federal ban on coronavirus-related evictions through June 30, three days before it was set to expire. “The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a historic threat to the nation’s public health. Keeping people in their homes and out of crowded or congregate settings — like homeless shelters — by preventing evictions is a key step in helping to stop the spread of COVID-19,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky in a Monday statement. Walensky on Sunday signed an order to postpone the March 31 expiration of the CDC eviction ban, the agency announced Monday. The CDC in September prohibited evictions of renters — individuals who expected to make less than $99,000 in 2020 and couples filing jointly looking at less than $198,000 — if they failed to pay rent due to a pandemic-related job loss or expense. Housing advocates had urged the Biden administration to extend the eviction ban with the U.S. still at least several months away from containing the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 10 million Americans are facing housing insecurity, 5.4 million expect to face eviction or foreclosure soon, and more than 78 million said they’re having trouble covering basic expenses, according to a Census Bureau survey conducted earlier this month. While inconsistent legal interpretations by state judges and logistical challenges have limited the reach of the CDC ban, experts say it has prevented millions of Americans from homelessness during the pandemic. The 90-day extension could give struggling households sorely needed time to find work and begin digging out from the financial hole created by the pandemic. Those protected by the ban are still responsible for paying rent and fees that accrued on it during the moratorium, and many will likely need federal assistance to cover those costs. The Biden administration has been racing to disburse nearly $40 billion in aid to cover rent and utilities payments owed by struggling households. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told lawmakers last week that the department has distributed rental aid to state, local and tribal grantees, and would work on new guidelines to clear up confusion about the relief program's rules.

FHFA House Price Index: Up 1.0% in January  The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has released its U.S. House Price Index (HPI) for January. Here is the opening of the press releaseHouse prices rose nationwide in January, up 1.0 percent from the previous month, according to the latest Federal Housing Finance Agency House Price Index (FHFA HPI®). House prices rose 12.0 percent from January 2020 to January 2021. The previously reported 1.1 percent price change for December 2020 was revised upward to 1.2 percent.  For the nine census divisions, seasonally adjusted monthly house price changes from December 2020 to January 2021 ranged from -0.2 percent in the East South Central division to +1.5 percent in the Mountain division. The 12-month changes ranged from +10.2 percent in the West South Central division to +14.8 percent in the Mountain division. “While house prices experienced historic growth rates in 2020 and into the new year, the monthly gains appear to be moderating” said Dr. Lynn Fisher, FHFA’s Deputy Director of the Division of Research and Statistics. “House prices increased by 1.0 percent in January, which is relatively still high, but represents the smallest month-over-month gain since June 2020.”  The chart below illustrates the monthly HPI series, which is not adjusted for inflation, along with a real (inflation-adjusted) series using the Consumer Price Index: All Items Less Shelter.  In the chart above we see that the nominal HPI index has exceeded its pre-recession peak of what's generally regarded to have been a housing bubble. Adjusted for inflation, the index is now at 174.9, also at its all-time high.

Case-Shiller: National House Price Index increased 11.2% year-over-year in January - S&P/Case-Shiller released the monthly Home Price Indices for January ("January" is a 3 month average of November, December and January prices). This release includes prices for 20 individual cities, two composite indices (for 10 cities and 20 cities) and the monthly National index. From S&P: S&P Corelogic Case-Shiller Index Reports 11.2% Annual Home Price Gain to Start 2021 The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index, covering all nine U.S. census divisions, reported an 11.2% annual gain in January, up from 10.4% in the previous month. The 10-City Composite annual increase came in at 10.9%, up from 9.9% in the previous month. The 20-City Composite posted an 11.1% year-over-year gain, up from 10.2% in the previous month.Phoenix, Seattle, and San Diego continued to report the highest year-over-year gains among the 20 cities in January. Phoenix led the way with a 15.8% year-over-year price increase, followed by Seattle with a 14.3% increase and San Diego with a 14.2% increase. All 20 cities reported higher price increases in the year ending January 2021 versus the year ending December 2020....Before seasonal adjustment, the U.S. National Index posted a 0.8% month-over-month increase, while the 10-City and 20-City Composites both posted increases of 0.8% and 0.9% respectively in January. After seasonal adjustment, the U.S. National Index posted a month-over-month increase of 1.2%, and the 10-City and 20-City Composites both posted increases of 1.2% as well. In January, 19 of 20 cities reported increases before seasonal adjustment, and all 20 cities reported increases after seasonal adjustment. The first graph shows the nominal seasonally adjusted Composite 10, Composite 20 and National indices (the Composite 20 was started in January 2000).The National index is 28% above the bubble peak (SA), and up 1.2% (SA) in January.  The National index is up 75% from the post-bubble low set in December 2011 (SA). The second graph shows the year-over-year change in all three indices. Note: According to the data, prices increased in 20 cities month-over-month seasonally adjusted. Price increases were above expectations. 

 Zillow Case-Shiller House Price Forecast: "No End in Sight", 12.0% YoY in February - The Case-Shiller house price indexes for January were released today. Zillow forecasts Case-Shiller a month early, and I like to check the Zillow forecasts since they have been pretty close. From Matthew Speakman at Zillow: January 2021 Case-Shiller Results & Forecast: No End in Sight: Home prices continued their surge higher as the new year began, maintaining a torrid pace that appears likely to persist for many more months. ..As more signs of an improving economy continue to arrive, demand for housing remains elevated leading homes to fly off the shelves and red-hot competition for the relatively few homes available for sale. Homes in many areas went under contract in January — generally one of the slower times of the year — merely days after hitting the market and about a month faster than the same period a year ago. Seeing this, and unfazed by rising mortgage rates, a wave of eager buyers is being forced to act swiftly and face heightened competition for the few homes available. The combined dynamic is pushing prices upward at their strongest pace in years, and it doesn’t appear that there is an end in sight. Monthly growth in January as reported by Case-Shiller is expected to slow slightly from December in all three main indices, while annual growth is expected to accelerate across the board. S&P Dow Jones Indices is expected to release data for the January S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Indices on Tuesday, April 27.   The Zillow forecast is for the year-over-year change for the Case-Shiller National index to be at 12.0% in February, up from 11.2% in January. The Zillow forecast is for the 20-City index to be up 11.9% YoY in February from 11.1% in January, and for the 10-City index to increase to be up 11.6% YoY compared to 10.9% YoY in January.

NAR: Pending Home Sales Decrease 10.6% in February --From the NAR: Pending Home Sales Slip 10.6% in February -- Pending home sales dipped for a second straight month in February, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Each of the four major U.S. regions witnessed month-over-month declines in February, while results were mixed in the four regions year-over-year.  The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator of home sales based on contract signings, dropped 10.6% to 110.3 in February. Year-over-year, contract signings fell 0.5%. An index of 100 is equal to the level of contract activity in 2001. ... The Northeast PHSI fell 9.2% to 92.3 in February, a 3.9% dip from a year ago. In the Midwest, the index dropped 9.5% to 102.4 last month, down 6.1% from February 2020. Pending home sales transactions in the South declined 13.0% to an index of 133.2 in February, up 2.9% from February 2020. The index in the West fell 7.4% in February to 96.9, up 1.9% from a year prior. This was well below expectations for this index. Note: Contract signings usually lead sales by about 45 to 60 days, so this would usually be for closed sales in March and April.

Construction Spending decreased 0.8% in February --From the Census Bureau reported that overall construction spending decreased: Construction spending during February 2021 was estimated at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1,516.9 billion, 0.8 percent below the revised January estimate of $1,529.0 billion. Both private and public spending decreased: Spending on private construction was at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1,165.7 billion, 0.5 percent below the revised January estimate of $1,171.6 billion. ... In February, the estimated seasonally adjusted annual rate of public construction spending was $351.2 billion, 1.7 percent below the revised January estimate of $357.4 billion. This graph shows private residential and nonresidential construction spending, and public spending, since 1993. Note: nominal dollars, not inflation adjusted. Residential spending is 6% above the bubble peak (in nominal terms - not adjusted for inflation).Non-residential spending is 8% above the previous peak in January 2008 (nominal dollars), but has been weak recently. Public construction spending is 8% above the previous peak in March 2009, and 34% above the austerity low in February 2014. The second graph shows the year-over-year change in construction spending.On a year-over-year basis, private residential construction spending is up 21.1%. Non-residential spending is down 9.7% year-over-year. Public spending is down slightly year-over-year. Construction was considered an essential service in most areas and did not decline sharply like many other sectors, but it seems likely that non-residential will be under pressure. For example, lodging is down 24% YoY, multi-retail down 33% YoY, and office down 5% YoY.  This was slightly above consensus expectations of a 0.9% decrease in spending, and construction spending for the previous two months was revised up.

Hotels: Occupancy Rate Down 17% Compared to Same Week in 2019 -- Note: Starting last week, the year-over-year comparisons are easy - since occupancy declined sharply at the onset of the pandemic - but occupancy is still down significantly from normal levels. The occupancy rate is down 16.7% compared to the same week in 2019.  From CoStar: STR: US Hotels Achieve 83% of 2019 Occupancy for Week of March 27: U.S. weekly hotel occupancy fell one point from the previous week, according to STR‘s latest data through March 27.
March 21-27, 2021:
• Occupancy: 57.9%
• Average daily rate (ADR): US$108.31
• Revenue per available room (RevPAR): US$62.68
The 57.9% absolute occupancy was a 160.8% increase from the comparable, pandemic-affected week last year, but more importantly, represented more than 83% of occupancy regained from the 2019 benchmark. More than 21 million rooms were sold for the second week in a row, however, it was the first time in four weeks that the metric fell week over week, which is indicative of softening in the spring break demand that had boosted levels previously.
The following graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four week average.  The red line is for 2021, black is 2020, blue is the median, and dashed light blue is for 2009 (the worst year since the Great Depression for hotels prior to 2020). Even when occupancy increases to 2009 levels, hotels will still be hurting.

Consumer Confidence Highest in a Year -- The headline number of 109.7 was an increase of 19.3 from the final reading of 90.4 for February. This was above consensus of 96.9. “Consumer Confidence increased to its highest level since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020,” said Lynn Franco, Senior Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. “Consumers’ assessment of current conditions and their short-term outlook improved significantly, an indication that economic growth is likely to strengthen further in the coming months. Consumers’ renewed optimism boosted their purchasing intentions for homes, autos and several big-ticket items. However, concerns of inflation in the short-term rose, most likely due to rising prices at the pump, and may temper spending intentions in the months ahead.” Read more  The chart below is another attempt to evaluate the historical context for this index as a coincident indicator of the economy. Toward this end, we have highlighted recessions and included GDP. The regression through the index data shows the long-term trend and highlights the extreme volatility of this indicator. Statisticians may assign little significance to a regression through this sort of data. But the slope resembles the regression trend for real GDP shown below, and it is a more revealing gauge of relative confidence than the 1985 level of 100 that the Conference Board cites as a point of reference.

ISM® Manufacturing index Increased to 64.7% in March - The ISM manufacturing index indicated expansion in March. The PMI® was at 64.7% in March, up from 60.8% in February. The employment index was at 59.6%, up from 54.4% last month, and the new orders index was at 68.0%, up from 63.2%.From ISM: Manufacturing PMI® at 64.7%; March 2021 Manufacturing ISM® Report On Business®The March Manufacturing PMI® registered 64.7 percent, an increase of 3.9 percentage points from the February reading of 60.8 percent. This figure indicates expansion in the overall economy for the 10th month in a row after contraction in April. The New Orders Index registered 68 percent, up 3.2 percentage points from the February reading of 64.8 percent. The Production Index registered 68.1 percent, an increase of 4.9 percentage points compared to the February reading of 63.2 percent. The Backlog of Orders Index registered 67.5 percent, 3.5 percentage points above the February reading of 64 percent. The Employment Index registered 59.6 percent, 5.2 percentage points higher than the February reading of 54.4 percent. The Supplier Deliveries Index registered 76.6 percent, up 4.6 percentage points from the February figure of 72 percent. The Inventories Index registered 50.8 percent, 1.1 percentage points higher than the February reading of 49.7 percent. The Prices Index registered 85.6 percent, down 0.4 percentage point compared to the February reading of 86 percent. The New Export Orders Index registered 54.5 percent, a decrease of 2.7 percentage points compared to the February reading of 57.2 percent. The Imports Index registered 56.7 percent, a 0.6-percentage point increase from the February reading of 56.1 percent.” This was above expectations.This suggests manufacturing expanded at a faster pace in March than in February.

 March Markit Manufacturing: "March PMI at second-highest on record amid marked new order growth and supply chain disruptions" -- The March US Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index conducted by Markit came in at 59.1, up 0.5 from the 58.6 final February figure.  Here is an excerpt from Chris Williamson, Chief Business Economist at IHS Markit in their latest press release: “March saw manufacturers struggle to cope with surging inflows of new orders. Although output continued to rise at a solid pace, capacity is being severely strained by the combination of soaring demand and supply chain disruptions: supply chain delays and backlogs of uncompleted orders are growing at rates unprecedented in the survey’s 14-year history, meaning inventories of finished goods are falling at a steep rate.“Pricing power has risen accordingly as demand outstrips supply: raw material prices are increasing at the sharpest rate for a decade and factory gate selling prices have risen to a degree not seen since at least 2007.“The fastest rates of increasefor both new orders and prices was reported among producers of consumer goods, as the arrival of stimulus cheques in the post added fuel to a marked upswing in demand as the economy continued to pull out of the malaise caused by the pandemic.“With business expectations becoming even more optimistic in March, further strong production growth looks likely in the second quarter, but the big question will be whether rising price pressures also become more entrenched." [Press Release] Here is a snapshot of the series since mid-2012.

ISM manufacturing at multi-decade highs in March, while construction chilled in the February Big Texas Freeze - Two months ago I wrote that both the manufacturing and housing sectors were “on fire.” Then last month I wrote that they had “turned white hot,” with both construction spending and ISM manufacturing data at levels not seen in years. While construction backed off, manufacturing is even ... well, hotter than white hot? The overall ISM manufacturing reading rose from 60.8 to 64.7, the highest reading since 1984! The even more leading new orders subindex also rose from 64.8 to 68.0, the highest reading since 2004: Turning to construction, the Big Texas Freeze showed up in February spending for residential construction, which declined -0.2% for the month, while total construction spending declined -0.8%:Taking into account inflation - deflating by the PPI for construction materials -  neither residential construction spending nor overall construction spending is anywhere near their housing bubble levels of 2005:  While I am concerned about 2022, as I described yesterday, this year is likely going to be absolutely gangbusters for residential construction spending, which means lots more money flowing through the economy as a whole. In short, this morning’s two reports together show that manufacturing and housing, the two most important leading sectors of the real economy, remain likely to power very strong GDP gains this year.

Dallas Fed: "Texas Manufacturing Activity Accelerates Sharply" in March --From the Dallas Fed: Texas Manufacturing Activity Accelerates Sharply:  Texas factory activity expanded at a markedly faster pace in March, according to business executives responding to the Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey. The production index, a key measure of state manufacturing conditions, surged 28 points to 48.0, its highest reading in the survey’s 17-year history. Other measures of manufacturing activity also pointed to sharply faster growth this month. The new orders index rose 18 points to 30.5, and the growth rate of orders index rose 11 points to 22.7. The capacity utilization index rocketed from 16.5 to 46.1, an all-time high. The shipments index rose 17 points to 33.1.Perceptions of broader business conditions improved markedly in March. The general business activity index posted another double-digit increase, rising 12 points to 28.9. The company outlook index shot up 15 points to 25.8, its highest reading since mid-2018. The outlook uncertainty index edged down to 5.5.Labor market measures indicated robust growth in employment and work hours. The employment index came in at 18.8, up from 12.7 and well above average.This was the last of the regional Fed surveys for March.Here is a graph comparing the regional Fed surveys and the ISM manufacturing index: The New York and Philly Fed surveys are averaged together (yellow, through March), and five Fed surveys are averaged (blue, through March) including New York, Philly, Richmond, Dallas and Kansas City. The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) PMI (red) is through February (right axis).The ISM manufacturing index for March will be released on Thursday, April 1st. Based on these regional surveys, the ISM manufacturing index will likely increase from the February level (the consensus is for an increase to 61.2 from 60.8 in February).

Chicago PMI Highest Since July 2018 - The Chicago Business Barometer, also known as the Chicago Purchasing Manager's Index, is similar to the national ISM Manufacturing indicator but at a regional level and is seen by many as an indicator of the larger US economy. It is a composite diffusion indicator, made up of production, new orders, order backlogs, employment, and supplier deliveries compiled through surveys. Values above 50.0 indicate expanding manufacturing activity.The latest Chicago Purchasing Manager's Index, or the Chicago Business Barometer, jumped to 66.3 in March from 59.5 in February, which is in expansion territory and its highest since July 2018. Values above 50.0 indicate expanding manufacturing activity.Here is an excerpt from the press release:The Chicago Business BarometerTM, produced with MNI, rose to 66.3 in March, the highest level since July 2018. Through Q1 the index gained 4.4 points to 63.2, the strongest reading since Q3 2018. Among the main five indicators, Production saw the largest gain, while Order Backlogs saw the biggest drop. [Source]  Let's take a look at the Chicago PMI since its inception.

March Regional Fed Manufacturing Overview - Five out of the twelve Federal Reserve Regional Districts currently publish monthly data on regional manufacturing: Dallas, Kansas City, New York, Richmond, and Philadelphia. Regional manufacturing surveys are a measure of local economic health and are used as a representative for the larger national manufacturing health. They have been used as a signal for business uncertainty and economic activity as a whole. Manufacturing makes up 12% of the country's GDP.The other 6 Federal Reserve Districts do not publish manufacturing data. For these, the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book offers a short summary of each districts’ manufacturing health. The Chicago Fed published their Midwest Manufacturing Index from July 1996 through December of 2013. According to their website, "The Chicago Fed Midwest Manufacturing Index (CFMMI) is undergoing a process of data and methodology revision.  Significant revisions in the history of the CFMMI are anticipated."Five out of the twelve Federal Reserve Regional Districts currently publish monthly data on regional manufacturing: Dallas, Kansas City, New York, Richmond, and Philadelphia. The latest average of the five for March is 28.2, up from the previous month's 18.1. The average is currently at its all-time high.

 Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims increased to 719,000 --The DOL reported:In the week ending March 27, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 719,000, an increase of 61,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised down by 26,000 from 684,000 to 658,000. The 4-week moving average was 719,000, a decrease of 10,500 from the previous week's revised average. This is the lowest level for this average since March 14, 2020 when it was 225,500. The previous week's average was revised down by 6,500 from 736,000 to 729,500.This does not include the 237,025 initial claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) that was down from 241,137 the previous week. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971. The dashed line on the graph is the current 4-week average. The four-week average of weekly unemployment claims decreased to 719,000.The previous week was revised down.Regular state continued claims decreased to 3,794,000 (SA) from 3,840,000 (SA) the previous week.Note: There are an additional 7,349,663 receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) that increased from 7,844,867 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 5,515,355 receiving Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) down from 6,220,492. Weekly claims were higher than the consensus forecast.

 US weekly combined unemployment claims spike above 950,000 - The latest Department of Labor first-time unemployment claims report revealed an increase of 61,000 state claims compared to the prior week, bringing the weekly total to over 719,000.In addition to the 719,000 state claims, the report also revealed another 237,025 initial claims were filed under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program (PUA), created under the CARES Act. This brought the combined state and federal claims to 951,548, nearly four times the pre-pandemic average of 225,000 claims. The PUA program, designed for self-employed, contract, and so-called “gig” workers, along with the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program, will both expire in September, barring congressional action. Out of the 18.2 million workers that were claiming some form of unemployment assistance in mid-March, nearly 7,350,000 of those continuing claims were filed under PUA, while roughly 5,515,000 claims were for the PEUC program.Despite efforts from Republican and Democratic governors alike to abandon limited lockdowns and health and safety measures in the interests of “reopening the economy” and generating profits for the ruling class, the stubbornly high claims showed that millions are struggling to find permanent, steady and well-paying work.After limited lockdowns were implemented and then abandoned last spring, some 22 million jobs were lost. One year later, roughly 9 million have yet to return. While trillions of dollars have been made available for Wall Street speculators, large multinational corporations and the politically well-connected, millions of jobless workers and their families remain on the brink of destitution and homelessness. For those that have found work, it has generally been part-time and transitory, such as rideshare, grocery shopping and food delivery services, which also lack steady wages and benefits compared to “traditional” employment.While millions remain out of work, April’s job report is expected to show an increase in employment upwards of 500,000. However, the majority of these jobs are centered in the low-paying service, restaurant, travel and hospitality industries, which have been decimated due to COVID-19 induced lockdowns. A February report from McKinsey & Company illustrated the character of the unequal “recovery” in the US. Their research found that the total unemployment rate among those who make under $30,000 a year was at 17.34 percent as of February 2021, compared to only 3 percent for those who reported earning above $150,000.For workers earning between $30,000 and $50,000 total unemployment was at 9.32 percent, while those who made between $99,000 and $150,000 were recorded at only 3.24 percent. The increased employment rate for the working class tracks with statistics provided by the Federal Reserve last month which estimated that the real jobless rate was between 9 and 10 percent. While the DOL report found that the overall total of 18.2 million workers claiming unemployment decreased by over 1.5 million from the week prior, this was not an indication that over a million workers found jobs. Instead, state benefits continue to expire, forcing the unemployed to apply for assistance through federal programs. In addition to expiring eligibility requirements, several state governments are reimposing job search requirements in an attempt to blackmail workers back into dangerous job sites.

ADP: Private Employment increased 517,000 in March -- From ADP: Private sector employment increased by 517,000 jobs from February to March according to the March ADP® National Employment ReportTM. Broadly distributed to the public each month, free of charge, the ADP National Employment Report is produced by the ADP Research Institute® in collaboration with Moody’s Analytics. The report, which is derived from ADP’s actual payroll data, measures the change in total nonfarm private employment each month on a seasonally-adjusted basis “We saw marked improvement in March’s labor market data, reporting the strongest gain since September 2020,” said Nela Richardson, chief economist, ADP. “Job growth in the service sector significantly outpaced its recent monthly average, led with notable increase by the leisure and hospitality industry. This sector has the most opportunity to improve as the economy continues to gradually reopen and the vaccine is made more widely available. We are continuing to keep a close watch on the hardest hit sectors but the groundwork is being laid for a further boost in the monthly pace of hiring in the months ahead.”  This was below the consensus forecast of 550,000 for this report. The BLS report will be released Friday, and the consensus is for 565 thousand non-farm payroll jobs added in March. The ADP report has not been very useful in predicting the BLS report.

 A Closer Look at Today's ADP Employment Report -In this morning's ADP employment report we got the March estimate of 517K nonfarm private employment jobs gained from ADP, an increase over February's revised 176K. The popular spin on this indicator is as a preview to the monthly jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Here is a snapshot of the monthly change in the ADP headline number since the company's earliest published data in April 2002. This is quite a volatile series, so we've plotted the monthly data points as dots along with a six-month moving average, which gives us a clearer sense of the trend. As we see in the chart above, the trend peaked 20 months before the last recession and went negative around the time that the NBER subsequently declared as the recession start. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought employment numbers down to levels we have never seen this century.  ADP also gives us a breakdown of Total Nonfarm Private Employment into two categories: Goods Producing and Services. Here is the same chart style illustrating the two. The US is predominantly a services economy, so it comes as no surprise that Services employment has shown stronger jobs growth. The trend in Goods Producing jobs went negative over a year before the last recession. It makes sense that service-producing employment has plummeted during the pandemic for a couple of reasons - our economy is mostly supported by service-producing jobs, and during the pandemic, those same services were brought to a halt.For a sense of the relative size of Services over Goods Producing employment, the next chart shows the percentage of Services Jobs across the entire series. The latest data point is below the record high. There are a number of factors behind this trend. In addition to our increasing dependence on Services, Goods Production employment continues to be impacted by automation and offshoring. For a better sense of the components of the two Goods Producing and Service Providing cohorts, here is a snapshot of the five select industries tracked by ADP. The two things to note here are the relative sizes of the industries and the relative trends. Note that Construction and Manufacturing are Production industries whereas the other three are Service Providing. Another view of the relative trends of the five select industries is an overlay of the year-over-year comparison. For a longer-term perspective on the Goods Producing and Service Providing employment, see our monthly analysis, Secular Trends in Employment: Goods Producing Versus Services Providing, which is based on data from the Department of Labor's monthly jobs report reaching back to 1939.

March Employment Report: 916 Thousand Jobs, 6.0% Unemployment Rate -- From the BLS: Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 916,000 in March, and the unemployment rate edged down to 6.0 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. These improvements in the labor market reflect the continued resumption of economic activity that had been curtailed due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Job growth was widespread in March, led by gains in leisure and hospitality, public and private education, and construction.  ...  The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for January was revised up by 67,000, from +166,000 to +233,000, and the change for February was revised up by 89,000, from +379,000 to +468,000. With these revisions, employment in January and February combined was 156,000 higher than previously reported. The first graph shows the year-over-year change in total non-farm employment since 1968. In March, the year-over-year change was negative 6.720 million jobs. Next month, the YoY change will be up significantly - since employment collapsed in April 2020. Total payrolls increased by 916 thousand in March. Private payrolls increased by 780 thousand. Payrolls for January and February were revised up 156 thousand, combined. The second graph shows the job losses from the start of the employment recession, in percentage terms. The current employment recession was by far the worst recession since WWII in percentage terms, but currently is not as severe as the worst of the "Great Recession". The third graph shows the employment population ratio and the participation rate. The Labor Force Participation Rate increased to 61.5% in March, from 61.4% in February. This is the percentage of the working age population in the labor force. The Employment-Population ratio increased to 57.8% from 57.6% (black line). The fourth graph shows the unemployment rate. The unemployment rate decreased in March to 6.0% from 6.2% in February. This was well above consensus expectations, and January and February were revised up by 156,000 combined.

Blockbuster March jobs report, but still a long way to go - HEADLINES:

  • +916,000 million jobs added. The alternate, and more volatile measure in the household report indicated a gain of 609,000 jobs, which factors into the unemployment and underemployment rates below.
  • U3 unemployment rate declined 0.2% to 6.0%, compared with the January 2020 low of 3.5%, and the April 2020 high of 14.8%.
  • U6 underemployment rate declined 0.4 to 10.7%, compared with the January 2020 low of 6.9%, and the April 2020 high of 22.9%
  • Those on temporary layoff decreased -203,000 to 2,026,000.
  • Permanent job losers decreased -65,000 to 3,432,000.
  • January was revised upward by 67,000, and February was also revised upward by 89,000, for a net gain of 156,000 jobs compared with previous reports.
  • the average manufacturing workweek increased 0.2 hours to 40.5 hours. This is one of the 10 components of the LEI.
  • Manufacturing jobs increased by 53,000. Since February 2020 manufacturing has still lost -515,000, or 4% of the total. Over 60% of the total loss of 10.6% has been regained.
  • Construction jobs increased by 110,000 This was a big rebound from February’s Big Texas Freeze. Since February 2020 -182,000 construction jobs have been lost, 2.4% of the total. Over 80% of the worst loss of 12.5% has been regained.
  • Residential construction jobs, which are even more leading, rose by 10,200. YoY there have been actual job gains, and employment in this sector is at another new 10 year+ high.
  • temporary jobs *decreased* by -800. Since February 2020, 175,000 jobs have been lost, or 6% of all temporary help jobs.
  • the number of people unemployed for 5 weeks or less decreased by -8,000 to 2.177 million, compared with last April’s total of 14.283 million.
  • Professional and business employment rose by 66,000, which is still -685,000, or about 3.2% below its peak in February 2020.
  • Average Hourly Earnings for Production and Nonsupervisory Personnel: rose $0.2 to $25.21, which is a 4.4% YoY gain - less than the 5%+ YoY gains we saw in the last few months, which reflected that job losses during the pandemic  occurred primarily among lower wage earners.
  • the index of aggregate hours worked for non-managerial workers increased by 1.6%, still a loss since February 2020 of about 5%.
  • the index of aggregate payrolls for non-managerial workers increased by 1.6%,  still a loss of -2.1% from February 2020. On the other hand, over 90% of the loss from last February to April has been made back up.
  • Full time jobs increased 935,000 in the household report.
  • Part time jobs decreased -31,000 in the household report.
  • The number of job holders who were part time for economic reasons decreased by 262,000 to 5.826 million, which is still an increase from February 2020 of 1,428,000.
  • The Labor Force Participation Rate increased 0.1% to 61.5%, which is nevertheless down 1.8% from February 2020.
  • The Employment to Population Ratio increased 0.2% to 57.8%, which is down 3.3% from February 2020.
  • Leisure and hospitality employment increased 280,000.
  • Employment in food and drinking jobs increased 176,000.

SUMMARY: This was a blockbuster report, but one that was anticipated by the big declines in the weekly new jobless reports during the reference weeks for March.  There were only two negative news: the number of temporary jobs actually declined slightly in March, and average hourly wages for non-supervisory personnel increased an anemic $0.02. There are silver linings in each. Former temporary jobs may be getting converted to permanent jobs; and lower wage service workers have been called back to work in large numbers. Everything else was up sharply, reflecting an economy that is making substantial strides towards returning to pre-pandemic levels. This is partly because of great vaccination progress (for example, over half of all seniors in the US have been fully vaccinated), and partly a result of spring weather opening up great numbers of outdoor venues. Still, even at this rate, it will take the rest of the year to get back to February 2020 levels.

Strong job growth in March as vaccine distribution expands and the American Rescue Plan ramps up -- EPI Blog by Elise Gould - A solid 916,000 jobs were added in March, the strongest job growth we’ve seen since the initial bounceback faded last summer. Even with these gains, the labor market is still down 8.4 million jobs from its pre-pandemic level in February 2020. In addition, thousands of jobs would have been added each month over the last year without the pandemic recession. If we count how many jobs may have been created if the recession hadn’t hit—consider average job growth (202,000) over the 12 months before the recession—we are now short 11.0 million jobs since February. Even at this pace, it could take more than a year to dig out of the total jobs shortfall. However, today’s number is certainly a promising sign for the recovery, especially as vaccinations increase and vital provisions in the American Rescue Plan (ARP) have continued to ramp up since the March reference period to today’s data. The benefits of the ARP will continue to be captured in coming months. Key points of note in today’s report:

  • The largest jobs gains were in the sector most hurt: leisure and hospitality employment increased by 280,000 in March. Even with this improvement, leisure and hospitality employment—the lowest-paid sector in the U.S. economy—is still down 3.1 million jobs since February 2020.
  • Public-sector employment—notably in state and local education jobs—finally saw signs of life in March, likely due at least in part to the impact of the state and local government aid in the ARP. State and local government employment rose 129,000 in March; 97% of that increase (125,600 jobs) were in state and local education employment. Even with these improvements, state and local education employment is still down 863,200 since February 2020. I’m hopeful here again that ARP provisions to state and local governments will provide a necessary boost in coming months.
  • About one-fifth (21.0%) of the workforce teleworked because of the coronavirus pandemic. This means the vast majority of workers—disproportionately low-wage workers—are physically going to work. While the ramp up in the distribution of the vaccine is a positive trend, we are still nowhere near herd immunity and need to heed health officials in opening guidelines.
  • While the overall unemployment rate fell from 6.2% to 6.0%, the labor participation rate only improved slightly. As it becomes safe to reopen, I expect many more workers to return to the labor market seeking jobs.
  • The Black unemployment rate improved last month, but remains at 9.6%, far higher than any other group.
  • Long-term unemployment continued to rise in March, with 4.2 million workers unemployed 27 weeks or more.

In addition to the 9.7 million officially unemployed workers in March 2021, we must add four more groups of economically hurt workers:

  • First, the 636,000 workers misclassified as “employed, not at work.”
  • Second, the 2.7 million undercount of unemployed workers, found even in normal times.
  • Third, the 4.8 million workers now out of the labor force and not counted among the unemployed—measured by the differential between the size of the current labor force and what the labor force would be if the labor force participation rate hadn’t dropped over the last year.
  • Fourth, the 5.8 million workers who experienced a drop in hours and pay because of the pandemic.

In total, this means that 23.6 million workers are currently harmed in the coronavirus downturn. We include the 5.7 million baseline unemployment level prior to COVID as part of the number hurt right now because job search was made much more difficult by the labor market impacts of the recession. We include the 2.7 million estimated undercount of the unemployed prior to the start of COVID based on Ahn and Hamilton (2021) because again job search was made much more difficult by the labor market impacts of the recession.

Comments on March Employment Report - The headline jobs number in the March employment report was well above expectations, and employment for the previous two months was revised up.    Leisure and hospitality gained 280 thousand.  In March and April of 2020, leisure and hospitality lost 8.2 million jobs, and then gained about 60% of those jobs back.  However, leisure and hospitality lost jobs in December and January due to the winter surge in COVID cases - before gaining jobs in February and March - and are now down 3.1 million jobs since February 2020. Construction added 110 thousand jobs in March, and State and Local education added 126 thousand jobs.  Manufacturing added 53 thousand jobs. Earlier: March Employment Report: 916 Thousand Jobs, 6.0% Unemployment Rate. In March, the year-over-year employment change was minus 6.720 million jobs. This will turn positive in April due to the sharp jobs losses in April 2020.This graph shows permanent job losers as a percent of the pre-recession peak in employment through the March report. These jobs will likely be the hardest to recover. This data is only available back to 1994, so there is only data for three recessions. In March, the number of permanent job losers decreased slightly to 3.432 million from 3.497 million in February. Since the overall participation rate has declined due to cyclical (recession) and demographic (aging population, younger people staying in school) reasons, here is the employment-population ratio for the key working age group: 25 to 54 years old. The prime working age will be key in the eventual recovery. The 25 to 54 participation rate increased in March to 81.3% from 81.1% in February, and the 25 to 54 employment population ratio increased to 76.8% from 76.5% in February. "The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons, at 5.8 million, changed little in March but is 1.4 million higher than in February 2020. These individuals, who would have preferred full-time employment, were working part time because their hours had been reduced or they were unable to find full-time jobs." The number of persons working part time for economic reasons decreased in March to 5.826 million from 6.088 million in February. These workers are included in the alternate measure of labor underutilization (U-6) that decreased to 10.7% from 11.1% in February. This is down from the record high in April 22.9% for this measure since 1994. This graph shows the number of workers unemployed for 27 weeks or more. According to the BLS, there are 4.218 million workers who have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks and still want a job. This does not include all the people that left the labor force. This will be a key measure to follow during the recovery. Summary: The headline monthly jobs number was well above expectations, and the previous two months were revised up 156,000 combined. The headline unemployment rate declined to 6.0%. This was a strong report, but there are still 8.4 million fewer jobs than in February 2020, and 3.4 million people have lost jobs permanently.

A look at which Louisiana projects could get a piece of Biden's $2.3T infrastructure plan -President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure overhaul could funnel billions of dollars to a wide variety of Louisiana projects, ranging from capping thousands of abandoned oil and gas wells to funding road construction and helping with coastal restoration."This is the largest American job investment since World War II," Biden said in announcing the American Jobs Plan in Pittsburgh, Pa., Wednesday afternoon.  But the pre-Easter basket of goodies — which is likely to face a difficult approval process in Congress — also includes some rotten eggs needed to pay for the aggressive investment in U.S. roads, bridges and other infrastructure, state critics say: an end to federal tax breaks for the state’s important fossil fuel sector and an overall increase in corporate tax rates.The White House released a lengthy fact sheet Wednesday that detailed many of the proposals. It was light on the details of specific projects — and plans for individual states are expected to be unveiled in coming days — but two Louisiana locations were highlighted as potentially deserving of funding. In a section explaining how $621 billion would be spent on transportation infrastructure repairs and resilience nationwide, the fact sheet said the plan should "redress historic inequities and build the future of transportation infrastructure."“Too often, past transportation investments divided communities – like the Claiborne Expressway in New Orleans or I-81 in Syracuse – or it left out the people most in need of affordable transportation options,” the fact sheet said.The concrete bridges that extended Interstate 10 above N. Claiborne Avenue were built in the 1960s through the middle of Treme and other neighborhoods. At the time, N. Claiborne was a key business corridor for the city's Black community, its neutral ground lined with stately oak trees. The fact sheet promises $20 billion will be dedicated to a new transportation construction program aimed at reconnecting such neighborhoods. It doesn't specifically say that funding will be directed towards tearing down or relocating parts of the expressway above Claiborne, however.Any project on the expressway would be located in the heart of Louisiana's 2nd Congressional District, which was represented until earlier this year by Cedric Richmond who gave up his seat for a senior White House role. In another part of the fact sheet addressing links between the effects of climate change and infrastructure, it pointed out that Hurricane Laura caused $19 billion of the nearly $100 billion in climate change-linked extreme weather events in 2020, including severe damage to southwestern Louisiana's water systems and electrical grid. There's no indication what project might be planned to directly respond to Hurricane Laura damage.

Amid surging COVID-19 cases, New York Mayor de Blasio orders 80,000 city workers back to offices - In line with the Biden administration’s full-court press to reopen the economy within his first 100 days in office, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, ordered 80,000 city workers back to offices starting May 3, despite the steady increase in COVID-19 infections this month and warnings of a “third wave” of infections fueled by more contagious and deadly variants. “This is an important step on the way to the full recovery of New York City,” de Blasio said at a news conference on March 23. “We’re going to make it safe, but we need our city workers back in their offices where they can do the most to help their fellow New Yorkers,” he added. This is a bold-faced lie. The vast majority of the city’s 325,378 full- and part-time municipal employees, including firefighters, paramedics, police officers and Parks and Sanitation workers, have continued working throughout the pandemic in frontline, public-facing positions. Forcing the tens of thousands of office workers in other roles, who have been able to successfully telework for the past year, back to in-person work on this abbreviated schedule is not based on scientific or health considerations. It is motivated purely by a political agenda promoted by the Biden White House, with the full support of Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Democratic Party as a whole. That agenda is determined by the interests of the corporate-financial oligarchy and is shared in all essentials by both big business parties. It knowingly sacrifices the lives of workers, including educators, to the ravages of the killer virus in order to ensure the profits and personal fortunes of the capitalist ruling class. De Blasio’s aim is to send a message that the home of Wall Street will be fully open for business in short order. Once city offices are open, other businesses will be expected to follow suit, coupled with an accelerated relaxation of remaining restrictions on dining, shopping and other activities. Last week, Cuomo also announced that the Mets’ and Yankees’ baseball stadiums will be open to spectators starting in April. Arts and entertainment venues can also reopen at 33 percent capacity, or a maximum of 100 people indoors and 200 people outdoors. In most cases, the public will be required to show proof of vaccination or a negative test result to enter these venues. How these measures are to be enforced remains unclear.

 Democratic governor rules out new restrictions despite surge of COVID-19 in Michigan - Despite the vaccine campaign being pushed throughout the nation, cases of COVID-19 have continued their climb in the United States, up 15 percent from two weeks ago, averaging about 63,000 new cases of COVID-19 each day. Presently, there have been 31.1 million cases of COVID-19, with almost 565,000 deaths attributed to complications from the infection since last March. The situation is currently most dire in Michigan, where the B.1.1.7 variant combined with school reopenings and the relaxation of mitigation measures has seen an explosion of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. On March 31, the number of new cases surpassed 7,100. By comparison, the all-time one-day high occurred on November 20, with just over 10,000 cases of COVID-19. The seven-day moving average is now exceeding 5,400 daily cases of COVID-19, up from the February lows of around 1,000 daily cases. The test positivity rate has climbed to 15.6 percent. St. Clair County, Michigan, bordering the west bank of St. Clair River, has seen the highest increase in new cases in the state with a two-week change of 145 percent, nearly ten-fold higher than the national increase. Hospitalizations in the county are up 141 percent over the last 14 days. However, speaking on CNN Wednesday, Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer defended her actions to relax restrictions in the state and only proposed that residents wear masks and get vaccinated. Deflecting the question on reinstituting new restrictions, Whitmer spoke in her usual folksy political jargon, “We’re continuing to have robust conversations. Yesterday morning I had a restaurant owner asking if we could lift the curfew because of the Michigan game last night. Unfortunately, Michigan didn’t win, but the point still is that there’s a lot of push and pull. What we need to do is double down on our masking and get more people vaccinated.” Up to 8,000 fans will be allowed to fill the stands at Comerica Park today to watch opening day for the Detroit Tigers baseball team in a city which has been one of the worst hit during the pandemic. Meanwhile, Michigan has vaccinated just 28.6 percent of its population with at least one jab so far. When or if herd immunity will be achieved remains a theoretical debate. .

Town to resume utility cut-offs for unpaid bills -Front Royal plans to resume charging late fees and disconnections for unpaid town utility accounts this month. The town issued the alert to utility customers Wednesday on its website stating that the Department of Finance would assess late fees and penalties and resume disconnections for unpaid bills beginning April 12. Utility bills and delinquency notices mailed in April will reflect dates in which the department will assess late fees and penalties as well as the town's plan to disconnect service, the town notice states. The town continued to mail notices to all past-due accounts throughout the pandemic. “The Town of Front Royal understands that some citizens may be faced with economic hardships related to COVID-19,” the town notice states. Customers experiencing economic hardships related to the pandemic and have an account balance of 30 days or more past due may qualify for aid through the town’s COVID-19 Municipal Utility Relief Program. As of Wednesday, the town has 1,081 active delinquent utility accounts with total arrears of $764,956, Director of Finance B.J. Wilson stated in an email Thursday.

Millions At Risk As States Begin To Lift Power Shut-Off Bans : NPR -audio, transcript --During the pandemic, a growing number of utility customers are having their power shut off for lack of payment. This spring, a dozen states lift their winter ban on electric shut-offs. The death toll from February's brutal winter storm in Texas was revised to 111 this week. That's double the original estimates. The storm cut power to much of the state and left millions in uninsulated homes. Now millions of people throughout the country are at risk of losing power not because of bad weather, but unpaid electric bills. NPR's Scott Horsley reports. So much of everyday life depends on electricity, it can be hard to imagine what it's like to go without. Michael Driskill doesn't have to imagine. He lived without electricity for much of last year after the power company cut him off. It wasn't easy.“You can't take a shower. You can't cool food. You can't do laundry. You can't set an alarm clock. You can't charge your cell phone. Without electricity, it's almost impossible to live in today's society.”  Driskill, who lives in a trailer home in Osceola, Iowa, owed the power company $2,000. After he lost his job at a meatpacking plant during the pandemic, there was little chance of catching up. He tried running a generator for a while, but it failed, costing him a refrigerator full of food. He ran an extension cord to his neighbor's house in exchange for a few bucks, but it was only enough to power a few lights.

 Michigan Republican Party leader “jokes” about killing Democrats, anti-Trump Republicans --In comments before a meeting of supporters last Thursday, Michigan Republican Party Chairman Ron Weiser “joked” that the top three elected Democrats in the state are “three witches” that the GOP needs to “take out,” “soften up” and get ready “for the burning at the stake.” Weiser was speaking about Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson at a meeting of the North Oakland Republican Club. He referred to them multiple times as “the three witches.” The state chair made his comments—which were recorded on a smartphone video and shared on multiple social media platforms—in the course of reviewing Republican Party plans for the 2022 elections. His two statements were, “I made the decision to continue to serve to make sure we have an opportunity to take out those three witches in two years from now,” and, “Our job now is to soften up those three witches and make sure that when we have good candidates to run against them that they are ready for the burning at the stake.” Weiser then added, “And maybe the press heard that too.” These “jokes” were made less than six months since 14 men were arrested by the FBI for plotting to kidnap and kill Governor Whitmer and overthrow the government in Michigan. The group of individuals are part of a right-wing paramilitary group calling themselves the Wolverine Watchmen. Although reports about the ongoing case against the conspirators had virtually disappeared from the corporate news coverage, a hearing for the three leaders of the plot that began on March 3 showed that one of the men planned to “hogtie” the governor and “put her on display.” In testimony given by an FBI informant placed within the Wolverine Watchmen group, it was also revealed that the individuals worked with other right-wing organizations in Ohio and Wisconsin and were planning to kick-off a “boogaloo”—a civil war—that would result in “installing” the Wolverine Watchmen as the new government. The informant said the plot included plans to target Attorney General Nessel and Michigan Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist

VIDEO: Asian Passenger Brutally Beaten Unconscious On Subway –– The NYPD Hate Crimes Unit is investigating the brutal beating of an Asian man on the subway.  According to the video’s description, the incident took place on a Manhattan-bound J train at the Kosciuszko Street station. When exactly it took place was not immediately clear. The video begins with fists flying between two men aboard the subway. Several passengers can be seen aboard the train watching as the fight intensifies. In short order, the Asian man is pinned against a subway bench, and the attacker keeps throwing punches. Finally, the attacker puts the Asian man in a chokehold. At that time, passengers can be heard calling for the attacker to stop. The Asian man passes out, and the attacker bashes his head against the subway seat before getting off the subway. New York City Transit Interim President Sarah Feinberg called the video “absolutely horrifying and gut wrenching.” “We have offered our assistance to the NYPD and we will do anything we can to assist them with their investigation,” Feinberg said in a statement. “Racist, criminal behavior targeting Asian Americans is horrifying, and it must stop.” The video was released amid an alarming spike in anti-Asian violence in New York City and beyond. On Monday, a rally against anti-Asian hate was held in Bensonhurst.

People are being unjustly kept in prison because of bad software. It's yet another reason mass incarceration should be a national outrage. - People are sitting in jail right now who shouldn't be there. It's time that becomes less of an oft-ignored but accepted part of our justice system and more of a national outrage.   In Arizona, a software snafu and a culture of unaccountability may have conspired to keep hundreds of prisoners behind bars, despite having met certain requirements that would merit their early release.  It's outrageous, but it begs the question of how many more people are locked up in the 49 other states because of bureaucratic red tape or technological mishaps.  And despite an increased awareness of mass incarceration — which is on the short list of America's most enduring national ignominies — we're still an inherently punitive society. We shame, we punish, and we discard people. And after that, we don't think much about them.  They'd be free, if only the state's software would let them The details behind the Arizona "glitch" read like dystopian sci-fi, but they're also banal enough to induce a cynical shrug.  As first reported by Jimmy Jenkins, senior field correspondent for the NPR-affiliated KJZZ, the Arizona Department of Corrections' leadership has since 2019 been aware of a software bug that is contributing to keeping people locked up well past the date they were entitled to be released.  Incarcerated people in Arizona earn "credits" for good behavior that shaves time from their sentences. And two years ago the Department of Corrections spent $24 million to contract with an IT company to build and maintain software that would tabulate these credits and make it easier for everyone to know when it was time to let someone out of jail.  But according to whistleblowers, the software doesn't account for a 2019 law that allows people convicted of nonviolent crimes to earn even more credits and secure an even earlier release date.  "We knew from day one this wasn't going to work," one of the whistleblowers told Jenkins. "When they approved that bill, we looked at it and said 'Oh, s---.'" Department employees raised warnings to leadership for over a year before submitting an official memo in October 2020 detailing the software's failure to account for the 2019 law, thus making its release date tabulations inaccurate.  The Department's solution was not to immediately fix the bug, it was to manually tabulate every prisoners' credits, according to the whistleblowers. That means employees are literally sitting with calculators and crunching the numbers making up an enormous amount of data.

 Need Amid Plenty: Richest US Counties Are Overwhelmed by Surge in Child Hunger - The financial fallout of covid-19 has pushed child hunger to record levels. The need has been dire since the pandemic began and highlights the gaps in the nation’s safety net. While every U.S. county has seen hunger rates rise, the steepest jumps have been in some of the wealthiest counties, where overall affluence obscures the tenuous finances of low-wage workers. Such sudden and unprecedented surges in hunger have overwhelmed many rich communities, which weren’t nearly as ready to cope as places that have long dealt with poverty and were already equipped with robust, organized charitable food networks. Data from the anti-hunger advocacy group Feeding America and the U.S. Census Bureau shows that counties seeing the largest estimated increases in child food insecurity in 2020 compared with 2018 generally have much higher median household incomes than counties with the smallest increases. In Bergen, where the median household income is $101,144, child hunger is estimated to have risen by 136%, compared with 47% nationally. That doesn’t mean affluent counties have the greatest portion of hungry kids. An estimated 17% of children in Bergen face hunger, compared with a national average of around 25%. But help is often harder to find in wealthier places. Missouri’s affluent St. Charles County, north of St. Louis, population 402,000, has seen child hunger rise by 69% and has 20 sites distributing food from the St. Louis Area Foodbank. The city of St. Louis, pop. 311,000, has seen child hunger rise by 36% and has 100 sites. “There’s a huge variation in how different places are prepared or not prepared to deal with this and how they’ve struggled to address it,” said Erica Kenney, assistant professor of public health nutrition at Harvard University. “The charitable food system has been very strained by this.” Eleni Towns, associate director of the No Kid Hungry campaign, said the pandemic “undid a decade’s worth of progress” on reducing food insecurity, which last year threatened at least 15 million kids. And while President Joe Biden’s covid relief plan, which he signed into law March 11, promises to help with anti-poverty measures such as monthly payments to families of up to $300 per child this year, it’s unclear how far the recently passed legislation will go toward addressing hunger.

Maryland police handcuff crying 5-year-old: disturbing video -Police in Maryland released disturbing bodycam footage that shows officers handcuffing a weeping 5-year-old and calling him a “beast” after placing him in a squad car for not being in school. The video, released by the Montgomery County Police Department on Friday, was recorded in January 2020 and shows the officers repeatedly berate the small boy as he sobs uncontrollably. “Does your mama spank you? She’s going to spank you today,” one of the officers tells the boy. The officers first encounter the child walking around a neighborhood after he allegedly “left school grounds.” While attempting to place the child in a squad car, the situation becomes tense. “Boy, if I tried to do stuff like that I would’ve been beaten nine times by the time I got home,” one officer says as the boy cries. “Don’t nobody wanna hear that,” the cop says of the wails. “You know why? Because you don’t get to do what you want to do. This ain’t your world.” Later, the little boy’s mother arrives at the school and the adults attempt to solve the situation. That’s when an officer uses the handcuffs. “You know what these are for? These are for people who don’t want to listen and don’t know how to act,” the officer says to the boy. A councilmember in Montgomery County called the video a “nightmare.” “We all saw a little boy be mocked, degraded, put in the back of a police car, screamed at from the top of an adult police officer’s lungs, inches from his face,” the councilmember, Will Jawando, said. “This is violence.” Montgomery County police said both officers remained employed following an internal investigation. In a statement, Montgomery County school officials said the video is “extremely difficult for us to watch.” “Our heart aches for this student. There is no excuse for adults to ever speak to or threaten a child in this way,” the statement read.

Scholastic pulls book by 'Captain Underpants' author over 'passive racism' -Publishing company Scholastic last week pulled a book by Dav Pilkey, author of the “Captain Underpants” series, after determining it “perpetuates passive racism.” In a statement Friday, Scholastic said it stopped distribution of “The Adventures of Ook and Gluk, Kung Fu Cavemen from the Future” on March 22 “with the full support” of Pilkey. "Together, we recognize that this book perpetuates passive racism," the company said. "We are deeply sorry for this serious mistake." Pilkey apologized in a statement a day earlier, saying the 2010 book “contains harmful racial stereotypes and passively racist imagery.” “This week it was brought to my attention that this book also contains harmful racial stereotypes and passively racist imagery,” he said. “I wanted to take this opportunity to publicly apologize for this. It was and is wrong and harmful to my Asian readers, friends, and family, and to all Asian people.” Pilkey went on to say that he “intended to showcase diversity, equality, and non-violent conflict resolution” in the book, a spinoff from the “Captain Underpants” series. The author noted that Scholastic “has stepped forward to share my responsibility and together we are ceasing all further publication” of the book and are “actively working to remove existing copies from retail and library shelves.” Scholastic said it removed the book from its websites, halted order fulfillments and “sought a return of all inventory.” Scholastic added that it plans to "take steps to inform schools and libraries who may still have this title in circulation of our decision to withdraw it from publication."

 The surge of COVID-19 in Florida and the disastrous reality of school reopenings in the US -  On March 9, an article was published by the NBC affiliate in south Florida featuring an interview with the superintendents of the Miami-Dade County and Broward County school districts, who spoke in glowing terms about their forced return of children and teachers to brick-and-mortar classrooms last autumn. Using the language of the Biden administration about a new “normalcy,” they declared that if the nation’s fourth and sixth largest school districts can reopen schools “safely,” then every district can.It has now become clear, just three weeks later, that Florida is again becoming a major hot spot for COVID-19 infections, particularly among young people. The mainstream media, led by the New York Times, is referring to Florida as “a bellwether for the nation,” because it is the state that is furthest along in lifting COVID-19 restrictions.Last week, Florida averaged nearly 5,000 new COVID-19 cases each day, which was an increase of eight percent from its average two weeks earlier. This latest increase is largely attributable to the masses of spring break crowds that were openly invited by the state.The median age of COVID-19 cases has dropped since March 1 from 39 to 35, likely as a result of the spring break season, and this has been accompanied by a lower number of COVID-19 related deaths over the past two weeks. However, it is well established that deaths lag behind new infections, so one can expect to see an increase in deaths in the state in April and May. Florida is also the state with the largest number of B.1.1.7 variant cases, originally discovered in the UK, which have been documented as being more contagious and more lethal than the wild type of the virus. Florida has about one-fifteenth of the country’s population but a fifth of the B.1.1.7 cases and a third of the P.1 variant cases, first discovered in Brazil. The results of school reopenings in Florida have been a disaster, with 90,841 officially reported cases of COVID-19 in K-12 schools. Nearly 70,000 of these were students. There have been 11 pediatric deaths in the state since the beginning of the pandemic, and 42 active educators have died from COVID-19 since the reopening order was given last July.

Beloved Maryland math teacher dies of COVID-19 after school reopened - Mary Laurenzano, a math teacher at Bennett Middle School in Fruitland, Maryland, died of COVID-19 on March 22. Laurenzano had returned to her school voluntarily last September, at which point all of her students were still learning remotely. On February 8, some of her students returned for in-person learning under a hybrid model, and on March 9 Laurenzano developed COVID-19 symptoms and went into quarantine. She continued to teach from home right up to the day she succumbed to the virus last week. Laurenzano taught at Bennett Middle School starting in 2004 and earned numerous accolades and praise for her devotion to her students. In 2018, she was a Wicomico County Teacher of the Year semifinalist and a year earlier was honored by a local television station as a “Teacher Who Makes A Difference.” After being honored in 2018, Laurenzano said, “Every student is capable of being successful, but not all are traditional learners. Many come from homes that don’t have the ability to support their child academically.” She added, “Educational systems have to be creative in meeting the needs of every student, give equal opportunity for them to try different programs if they are being unsuccessful in a traditional environment. The community has to work together, put aside all of our differences and see the value in working together to help any child realize their potential.” In the 2017 television profile, she said, “I’m thankful for the staff that I have, the peers that I have, because without them we’re not able to have good instruction. These guys make it fun, because it’s one big family and it’s all of the different personalities that make it great.”

California lawmaker proposes program to cover parents' out-of-pocket remote learning costs -A California state assemblyman is proposing a privately funded grant program to help parents who have been forced to pay out-of-pocket expenses to keep up with their children's remote learning. Kevin Kiley, a Republican member of the California State Assembly, is spearheading the initiative to create the “Cal Grant K-12,” Fox News reported on Monday. The bill “incentivizes individuals and businesses to make donations that will provide eligible students scholarship funds they can use for approved expenses to help reduce pandemic-induced learning loss," Fox News reported, citing Kiley’s office. "Over the past year, school closures have had a devastating impact on the mental health and academic progress of California students," Kiley told Fox News. "A central part of our state's strategy for overcoming learning loss should be to give parents greater control over their child’s education." The donations, which would receive a tax credit from the state, could go toward educational resources including computers, tutors, and instructional materials, Kiley’s office told the network. . "Cal Grant K-12 empowers parents to spend education dollars on the services their kids need," Kiley added, according to Fox News. According to the assemblyman’s office as cited by the network, distribution priority will go to low-income students "most disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shift to distance learning.”

 ASU Dean Writes Book Alleging That Grading Students' Writing Is "White Supremacy" - An Arizona State University academic wrote a book explaining why grading students’ work based on quality is “white supremacy.”Asao Inoue - who teaches first-year writing courses and serves as associate dean for Academic Affairs, Equity, and Inclusion - wrote Labor-Based Grading Contracts: Building Equity and Inclusion in the Compassionate Writing Classroom, in which he advocates for a system of grading that circumvents merit.Inoue - whose “research focuses on antiracist and social justice theory” - explains that his book discusses “grading literacy performances more broadly” - namely, by judging “final course grades purely by the labor students complete, not by any judgments of the quality of their writing.”“While the qualities of student writing is still at the center of the classroom and feedback, it has no bearing on the course grade,” he explains. “Why take our judgments of quality out of the tabulation of course grades and progress in a course? Because all grading and assessment exist within systems that uphold singular, dominant standards that are racist, and White supremacist when used uniformly.”“Grading, because it requires a single, dominant standard, is a racist and White supremacist practice,” he adds

Edinburg Teachers Credit Union placed into conservatorship - The Texas Credit Union Department on Friday took control of Edinburg Teachers Credit Union in Edinburg Texas, naming the National Credit Union Administration as conservator. No details were offered regarding why the $106 million-asset credit union was placed in conservatorship. Edinburg Teachers earned slightly less than $693,000 last year, down from $775,000 in 2020, driven in part by a 12% reduction in lending. Charge-offs totaled about $175,000 at year-end, a 3.1% increase from 2019. The credit union remains well-capitalized with a net worth ratio of nearly 23%. ETCU remains open, with members’ deposits insured by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund for up to $250,000 per account. This is the third credit union to be placed into conservatorship in 2021, following Indianapolis Newspaper FCU and CO FCU in January. Edinburg Teachers serves more than 12,500 members, primarily educators.

Schools gone woke: a view from America -- I am an American educator who began teaching nearly two decades ago. During that time, I have taught at some of the most prestigious private secondary schools in the United States. Starting about five years ago, these schools began to be consumed by woke ideology.When I say “consumed by woke ideology” I mean that these schools are obsessed with sophomoric and divisive notions of diversity, equality, and justice; increasingly hostile to freedom of expression; addicted to cancelling anything that offends the woke movement; and prioritising activism over understanding as the goal of education.I am writing this letter to alert those we may describe as “sleep-wokers”. A sleep-woker is one who has not taken the woke creed to heart, yet nevertheless tacitly complies with the linguistic, pedagogical, political, and moral imperatives of wokeness. Sleep-wokers go through the motions; they are like religious folk who say prayers without thinking, attend worship services without engaging, and perpetuate dogmas without believing. I was a sleep-woker. In some ways, due to a combination of timidity and tiredness, I still am.Sleep-woking, like sleepwalking, is very dangerous. While sleep-woking, an English teacher can unwittingly help cancel Chaucer, Keats and Conrad in the name of decolonisation. A biology teacher might find herself obliged to deny important differences between the sexes. A football coach will not be able to cheer on a player after a strong tackle, as strength and physical violence smack of toxic masculinity. Most of my sleep-woking colleagues are good people. Like me, they were lulled into complacency by a woke take-over that was slow and subtle. What’s more, some changes were initially promising and even corrective — of course we should pay more attention to marginalised voices and overlooked narratives, and I am glad that we now do. To bemoan an expanded curriculum is simple chauvinism. In the end, however, wokeness has proven to be oppressive and totalitarian rather than inclusive and liberating. It is worth noting that I have been a supporter of the left for most of my life. The only political donation I have ever made went to a candidate in the most left-leaning wing of the most left-leaning party in American politics. My objection is to the effect of woke ideology on education, not to liberal politics. My grievance is that teachers are increasingly under pressure to adopt the woke agenda or be ostracized.

80 percent of Brown University students vote for reparations to descendants of enslaved people -More than 80 percent of Brown University students voted in support of reparations for descendants of slaves affiliated with the school and its founders, the latest move by members of the university to acknowledge its history with the slave trade. The Friday vote, organized by the Undergraduate Council of Students, included two referendums on reparations, one calling for the university to identify the descendants of enslaved Africans affiliated with the university and the Brown family, and the other arguing that Brown should provide reparations to those descendants. According to NBC News, more than 2,000 of Brown’s 7,000 undergraduate students participated in the vote, with 89 percent supporting the first referendum, and 85 percent backing the second. The referendums called for reparations in a variety of forms. According to a Facebook post from the Council of Students, reparations for identified individuals could include preferential admission to descendants of slaves applying to the university, direct funds for the descendants and “further recognition of the slave trade and how it interfaces with their lives.” For descendant communities, the student group said reparations could take the form of targeted investment, community engagement programs, recruitment efforts at local high schools with large Black populations, building partnerships with other universities near communities with slavery descendants, as well as increased scholarships and attention to these communities. The council president, Jason Carroll, who is a descendant of slaves on both sides of his family, told CNN that the vote was prompted by a "renewed attention of anti-Blackness here in the U.S.""We have a whole new direction as a nation, a whole new understanding of Black advocacy,” Carroll explained. “I think before this past summer saying you support Black Lives Matter was honestly somewhat controversial.” "It wasn't until the murder of Mr. [George] Floyd and the protests last summer that it became something that was mainstream enough that universities like Brown would say it,” he added.

LGBTQ students sue Department of Education over religious colleges and universities - A groups of LGBTQ students have filed a lawsuit against the Department of Education over discriminatory practices at religious colleges and universities.The suit was filed by the Religious Exemption Accountability Project(REAP) by 33 current and former students in an Oregon federal court on Monday.The suit aims to “put an end to the U.S. Department of Education’s complicity in the abuses and unsafe conditions thousands of LGBTQ+ students endure at hundreds of taxpayer-funded, religious colleges and universities.”At issue is the religious exemption to Title IX, a federal law that prohibits institutions from discriminating against students on the basis of sex in its programs. The group claims that the religious exemption has allowed schools to continue with discriminatory practices. The students described experiences of discrimination, including being forced into conversion therapy, being denied admissions or expelled. “The religious exemption to Title IX, however, seemingly permits the Department to breach its duty as to the more than 100,000 sexual and gender minority students attending religious colleges and universities where discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is codified in campus policies and openly practiced,” the suit says.The suit comes as Democrats push forward with advancing protections for the LGBTQ community.President Biden signed an executive order in early March aimed at guaranteeing that students can learn in an environment free of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but it doesn’t address religious exemptions under Title IX. The House passed the Equality Act in late February, which expands protections in education, housing and employment to LGBT people. The measure still has an uphill battle in the Senate, where both parties control 50 seats.

UK variant discovered at University of Pittsburgh and Penn State campuses - The University of Pittsburgh ordered students to shelter in place after a large outbreak of COVID-19 cases last week. The number of active infections rose to 76 among staff and students, with 72 infections recorded in the last week alone. The total number of infections at the university now stands at over 1,060 for students and 207 for faculty and staff. In a statement last week by the COVID-19 Medical Response Office (CMRO), the university noted that the rise in cases is likely tied to the rise in the surrounding community. The five-day moving average rose to 8.6 per day last week, mirroring the broader community trends in Allegheny County. Both the county and the university are reporting an average of 30 cases per 100,000 each day, one of the highest rates of infection in Pennsylvania. Concern over the sudden rise in cases was heightened over the detection of the B.1.1.7 variant of the virus, more commonly referred to as the UK variant. “With the U.K. variant, B.1.1.7, present on the Pittsburgh campus, we are highly concerned about increased transmission rates and a surge in cases. Forty-two new students testing positive for COVID-19 in three days is worrisome,” said the statement. The UK variant is up to 50 percent more transmissible and has been linked to higher death rates in the United Kingdom. In response, the university issued a shelter-in-place order and moved into “Elevated Risk Posture,” which will enforce additional restrictions on campus activities in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. The shelter in place had originally been planned for April 16 as a precaution ahead of graduation and will remain in effect until further notice. A tweet by the university informed students that they should “only go out for classes, work if needed, safe exercise, takeout food and essentials.” In a statement on Wednesday, the CMRO said: “This action is being taken to respond to a consistent increase in positive cases among students. With the presence of the U.K. variant, B 1.1.7., on campus and in Allegheny County, the COVID-19 Medical Response Office (CMRO) is concerned that this trend will continue.” Additionally, the statement noted: “Of significant concern is that the increase in positive cases since the end of last week is now among our resident hall students.” The spread of COVID-19 through residence halls is particularly disturbing considering the presence of the UK variant on campus. Given the higher transmissibility of this variant, it is possible that large numbers of students have already been infected and may test positive in the coming days.

Columbia University to striking graduate workers: Starve or take our deal The Columbia University graduate workers strike, now well into its third week, pits graduate student-workers against the wealthy Ivy League university and the political and financial interests it represents. At the latest bargaining session Tuesday, the administration rejected the Graduate Workers of Columbia (GWC) proposal, which made significant concessions to the university, essentially out of hand. The lead Columbia negotiator, lawyer Bernie Plum, estimated that the GWC proposal is “significantly more than $30 million apart” from what Columbia has decided they are willing to spend. He insisted that the GWC select a handful of “priorities” and promised graduate students they would not get all of the already limited demands for which they are striking. Rank-and-file graduate workers have demonstrated immense courage and militancy in their strike for better wages, benefits and working conditions, even as their own bargaining committee has maneuvered behind their backs. The entire experience of the Columbia graduate students up to this point in their struggle with the administration underscores the need for the workers to adopt a political and socialist strategy to advance their struggle. As the World Socialist Web Site has previously shown, the Columbia Board of Trustees amounts to a collection of multi-millionaire and billionaire hedge fund managers and CEOs with deep ties to Wall Street, corporate America, the Democratic Party and the military-industrial complex. In many cases, these are the very figures who make up the ruling class in the United States (among them are TOMS Capital CEO Noam Gottesman and former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson). Their attitude toward workers can be summed up by the very fact that they have chosen to dock strikers’ pay in the middle of a pandemic.

Athletic directors say compensating athletes could hurt women's sports -The majority of athletic directors in a new survey said that compensating college athletes would make it difficult to comply with federal gender equity rules. According to an Associated Press survey released Thursday, 94 percent of athletic directors predicted it would be hard to comply with Title IX if schools start compensating athletes.  More than 70 percent said that certain sports will lose funding or be cut altogether if schools offer payments to students. “Sharing revenue with student-athletes is not feasible. That only works if universities are then absolved of Title IX requirements,” one AD reportedly wrote in the survey. “Football revenue supports women’s golf, women’s tennis, women’s softball, women’s volleyball, women’s soccer, women’s track and field on this campus.”The NCAA is on the verge of letting players sign individual sponsorship deals allowing them to profit off their name, image and likeness. There are already some states that are allowing players to do so. The AP reported that NCAA data shows men’s football and basketball are the biggest sources of revenue for most school sports programs.

Gov. Ralph Northam encourages directing coal tax credit savings to UVa-Wise  Gov. Ralph Northam wants the legislature to give its word that in exchange for eliminating the controversial coal tax credits that benefit Southwest Virginia, it will invest the savings in the University of Virginia’s College at Wise. The General Assembly passed legislation in February that would phase out and eventually eliminate the costly coal tax credits, which provided a financial lift to the economically struggling region. A critical report from the legislature’s watchdog agency found that the credits — among the state’s largest — generated economic losses for the state and very few jobs. The Southwest delegation and other stakeholders in the region have feared scrapping the credits could lead to money leaving the region at a time when it needs even more to reboot an economy that is still working to transition away from the coal industry. Northam is sending the two bills — patroned by Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William, and Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville — back to legislature with the suggestion that lawmakers commit to directing the savings to UVA-Wise “for the expansion of course offerings in data science, computer science, cybersecurity, and renewable energy.” The General Assembly will take up this amendment along with others when it reconvenes Wednesday. The projected savings with the elimination of the credits could be $300,000 each year in fiscal years 2023, 2024 and 2025, and then increasing to $6.5 million a year beginning fiscal year 2026. The governor can’t require the legislature to send this money to UVa-Wise, so Northam’s amendment is mostly about lawmakers sending a signal that they would like the money to stay in the region. “This is an opportunity for the Southwest delegation and college to say that next year and going forward, the General Assembly made a commitment to us — and it’s not binding — that when you repealed the coal tax credits, it committed to keeping that money down here to help us figure out a way that’s better than the coal tax credits to juice up our economy,” said Carter Hutchinson, Northam’s deputy policy director.

On “Socioeconomic Roots of Academic Faculty” - Menzie Chinn - From the paper: Tenure-track faculty play a special role in society: they train future researchers, and they  produce much of the scholarship that drives scientific, technological, and social innovation.  However, the professoriate has never been demographically representative of the general  population it serves. For example in the United States, Black and Hispanic scholars are  underrepresented across the tenure-track, and while women’s representation has increased  over time, they remain a minority in many academic fields. Here we investigate the  representativeness of faculty childhood socioeconomic status and whether it may implicitly limit eorts to diversify the professoriate in terms of race, gender, and geography. Using a  survey of 7218 professors in PhD-granting departments in the United States across eight  disciplines in STEM, social sciences, and the humanities, we find that the estimated median childhood household income among faculty is 23.7% higher than the general public,  and faculty are 25 times more likely to have a parent with a PhD. Moreover, the proportion of faculty with PhD parents nearly doubles at more prestigious universities and is stable across the past 50 years. Our results suggest that the professoriate is, and has remained, accessible mainly to the socioeconomically privileged. This lack of socioeconomic diversity is likely to deeply shape the type of scholarship and scholars that faculty produce and train.  The researchers did not survey the economics field, but one can guess that some of the same tendencies apply to the economics discipline. Bayer and Rouse (2016) some aspects of the economics field, but not specifically parental impacts. In any case, my suspicion is that should we have people of more varying backgrounds of all types, we’d probably have more varied views on the way the world works.

Education Department canceling student debt for those with disabilities - - The Education Department announced on Monday that it would be canceling student loan debt for more than 40,000 borrowers who have total and permanent disabilities. In a press release, the department said more than 41,000 people who had their student loan payments reinstated will get their previous disability discharges back and any payments made during the COVID-19 pandemic will be refunded back to them. Another 190,000 borrowers who are still in a 3-year disability discharge monitoring period will not be asked to submit documentation of their earnings. "Borrowers with total and permanent disabilities should focus on their well-being, not put their health on the line to submit earnings information during the COVID-19 emergency," Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in the release. "Waiving these requirements will ensure no borrower who is totally and permanently disabled risks having to repay their loans simply because they could not submit paperwork." The department noted in the release that policy dictates that people who receive discharges are required to send in earning documentation. If their income is found to exceed a certain limit than their loans will be reinstated. However, the Education Department pointed to a 2016 report by the Government Accountability Office that found nearly all of those who had their disability discharges reinstated did not exceed a certain income but instead did not submit the requested documentation. "As of today, the Department will not require borrowers who received a total and permanent disability discharge to submit earnings documentation for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency. This change will be made retroactive to March 13, 2020, the start of the COVID-19 national emergency," the release said. "Additionally, the Department will reverse any reinstatement of loan repayment requirements that occurred during this period because the borrower did not submit earnings information," the department added. "Impacted borrowers will not be required to later submit documentation of their income for the period covered by the COVID-19 emergency. Borrowers will begin to see their loans return to a discharge status in the coming weeks, including through follow-up communications from their servicer."

Biden asks Education Secretary if he can cancel student loan debt - President Biden has asked Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to review whether Biden has the legal authority to cancel student loan debt, White House chief of staff Ron Klain revealed. The revelation came during an interview Klain gave Thursday to Politico, in which he said the commander-in-chief had not yet made a final call on the matter, something he faces enormous pressure from the progressive left to do. “He asked his secretary of education — who’s just been on the job a few weeks — once he got on the job to have his department prepare a memo on the president’s legal authority, and hopefully we’ll see that in the next few weeks,” Klain told the outlet. “He’ll look at that legal authority, he’ll look at the policy issues around that, and then he’ll make a decision. He hasn’t made a decision on that either way. In fact, he hasn’t yet gotten the memos that he needs to start to focus on that decision,” he continued. When then-candidate Biden gained the Democratic nomination in March last year, the presidential hopeful did not believe a chief executive had the authority to cancel any federal debt without Congress. Facing pressure from the progressive wing of the party as the general election race heated up, Biden eventually opted to support canceling $10,000 of student debt, a compromise compared to the $50,000 pushed by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). In February, the president asked the Justice Department to review his legal authority to cancel $10,000 in student loans. It is not clear what conclusion it returned to him with. It is also not clear what Cardona has found in his Education Department-led review of presidential authority. Asked during Tuesday’s press briefing about the difference between the Senate Democrats’ $50,000 proposal and Biden’s $10,000 cancellation effort, White House press secretary Jen Psaki explained that the president was certainly willing to support canceling $50,000 in debt — just not without Congress. “The president continues to call on Congress to cancel $10,000 in debt for student loan borrowers. That’s something Congress could take an action on, and he’d be happy to sign,” Psaki said. The press secretary went on to say that the administration was “still taking a closer look at” its “options on student loans.”

US church membership falls below 50 percent for first time: poll -The percentage of Americans who have membership in a house of worship has dropped below 50 percent for the first time in eight decades, according to a report released by Gallup on Monday.U.S. church membership has steadily been declining for the past two decades. Before 2000, church membership had generally stayed around 70 percent from when Gallup began measuring it in the 1930s. In 2020, membership reached an all-time low of 47 percent. “The decline in church membership is primarily a function of the increasing number of Americans who express no religious preference,” Gallup notes in its report. “Over the past two decades, the percentage of Americans who do not identify with any religion has grown from 8% in 1998-2000 to 13% in 2008-2010 and 21% over the past three years.” A small portion of the drop in membership is due to a decline in Americans who said they have formal church membership. From 1998 to 2000, 73 percent of religious Americans said they belonged to a church. That number has since dropped to an average of 60 percent of religious Americans. Church membership is also strongly linked to age, Gallup notes. Among people born before 1946, 66 percent belong to a church with the share of people dropping as the generations progress. 58 percent of baby boomers, 50 percent of Generation X and 36 percent of Millennials report belong to a church. However, regardless of generation, the share of U.S. adults who do not have a religious affiliation or belong to a church has continued to grow. The trend was also observed across all subgroups including men, women, Hispanics, political parties and region of the U.S.

Shanna Swan: ‘Most couples may have to use assisted reproduction by 2045’ The professor of environmental medicine explains how chemicals in plastics are causing our fertility to decline – and what we can do about it (interview transcript).. Shanna Swan is a professor of environmental medicine and public health at Mount Sinai school of medicine in New York City, studying fertility trends. In 2017 she documented how average sperm counts among western men have more than halved in the past 40 years. Count Down is her new book. You’ve spent more than 20 years examining the effects of hormone disrupting chemicals on reproductive health. Are you now sounding the alarm? I am directly speaking to this hidden problem people don’t like to talk about, which is their sub-fertility or reproductive problems, and how that is tied to the environment. People are recognising we have a reproductive health crisis, but they say it’s because of delayed childbearing, choice or lifestyle – it can’t be chemical. I want people to recognise it can. I am not saying other factors aren’t involved. But I am saying chemicals play a major causal role. It is difficult to use that word, “cause”, but it’s a body of evidence. We have mechanisms, animal studies, and multiple human studies.

New research on Alzheimer's Disease shows 'lifestyle origin at least in some degree' -For years, research to pin down the underlying cause of Alzheimer's Disease has been focused on plaque found to be building up in the brain in AD patients. But treatments targeted at breaking down that buildup have been ineffective in restoring cognitive function, suggesting that the buildup may be a side effect of AD and not the cause itself.A new study led by a team of Brigham Young University researchers finds novel cellular-level support for an alternate theory that is growing in strength: Alzheimer's could actually be a result of metabolic dysfunction in the brain. In other words, there is growing evidence that diet and lifestyle are at the heart of Alzheimer's Disease."Alzheimer's Disease is increasingly being referred to as insulin resistance of the brain or Type 3 Diabetes," said senior study author Benjamin Bikman, a professor of physiology and developmental biology at BYU. "Our research shows there is likely a lifestyle origin to the disease, at least to some degree."The researchers found widespread glucose metabolism impairment in those nervous system support cells of the brains of former Alzheimer's Disease patients, but limited ketolytic metabolism impairment. The finding is significant because the brain is like a hybrid engine, with the ability to get its fuel from glucose or ketones, but in the Alzheimer's brains studied, there appears to be a fundamental genetic deficit in the brain's ability to use glucose. "The inability to use glucose increases the value of ketones. However, because the average person is eating insulin-spiking foods so frequently, there's never any ketones available to the brain," Bikman added. "I look at these findings as a problem we've created and that we're making worse."

CDC: "Age-adjusted death rate increased by 15.9% in 2020"; COVID Third Leading Cause of Death --The CDC released the Provisional Mortality Data — United States, 2020 today:  During January–December 2020, the estimated 2020 age-adjusted death rate increased for the first time since 2017, with an increase of 15.9% compared with 2019, from 715.2 to 828.7 deaths per 100,000 population. COVID-19 was the underlying or a contributing cause of 377,883 deaths (91.5 deaths per 100,000). COVID-19 death rates were highest among males, older adults, and AI/AN and Hispanic persons. The highest numbers of overall deaths and COVID-19 deaths occurred during April and December. COVID-19 was the third leading underlying cause of death in 2020, replacing suicide as one of the top 10 leading causes of death This is very close to economist Tom Lawler's estimates, see: Lawler: Update on the Dismal Demographics of 2020; "Smallest Population increase since 1918"

COVID-19 pandemic has led to more advanced-stage cancer diagnoses, physician survey finds - Doctors who oversee cancer clinics say that new patients are arriving for treatment with more advanced disease than before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new survey from the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO). The national survey of radiation therapy practice leaders fielded this winter also indicates that treatment postponements and deferrals that were common a year ago have largely subsided and that clinics continue to use a variety of enhanced safety measures to protect their patients and staff. "One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, we already see the consequences of pandemic-driven drops in cancer screening and diagnostics," said Thomas J. Eichler, MD, FASTRO, Chair of the ASTRO Board of Directors.Two-thirds of the radiation oncologists (66%) said new patients are presenting with more advanced-stage cancers. Nearly three-fourths (73%) said physicians in their practice are noticing that patients are not receiving cancer screenings, and many also said existing patients experienced an interruption in their radiation treatment due to the pandemic (66%). "Because the pandemic and cancer cause disproportionately more harm for Black and other medically underserved populations, these rates may be even higher for some vulnerable communities," added Dr. Eichler.

New studies show COVID-19 leads to significant organ damage and the death of many survivors - A landmark study in the UK by teams at University College London, the University of Leicester and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) confirms how deadly COVID-19 is. It backs up the growing mountain of evidence that the disease results in major organ damage in the human body. The report, “Post-covid syndrome in individuals admitted to hospital with covid-19” was published Wednesday in the BMJ (formerly, British Medical Journal). It found, “Over a mean follow-up of 140 days, nearly a third of individuals who were discharged from hospital after acute covid-19 were readmitted (14,060 of 47,780) and more than 1 in 10 (5,875) died after discharge…” Those readmitted needed to be taken back into hospital within four months of being sent home. The remit of the cohort study was to “quantify rates of organ specific dysfunction in individuals with covid-19 after discharge from hospital compared with a matched control group from the general population.” The number of readmittances and deaths, it adds, occurred “at rates four and eight times greater, respectively” than in the control group. The study compared medical records of nearly 48,000 people who had received treatment in a National Health Service (NHS) hospital for COVID-19 and been discharged by August 31, 2020. It concluded, “Individuals discharged from hospital after covid-19 had increased rates of multiorgan dysfunction compared with the expected risk in the general population.”  It has long been known that COVID-19 causes damage to the bodies’ major organs, including heart damage, kidney damage, lung damage, liver damage, hearing loss and contributing to bringing on Type 1 diabetes. In January, a study found that while no trace of COVID-19 had appeared in the brains of people with the infection, there was evidence of blood vessel damage caused by the body’s inflammatory response in the post-mortem brains of patients who tested positive for coronavirus. This suggests the virus may indirectly attack the organ. The UK study builds on previous research on outcomes for patients taken into hospital with COVID-19 but based on tens of thousands of cases is able to draw conclusions about the extent of dysfunction in organs of those affected. The report states, “Since SARS-CoV-2 infection was recognised in late 2019, the academic and clinical emphasis has been on respiratory manifestations. Increasing evidence exists for direct multiorgan effects, however, and indirect effects on other organ systems and disease processes, such as cardiovascular diseases and cancers, through changes in healthcare delivery and patient behaviours.” The BMJ states “In a recent study of 1,775 veterans in the United States admitted to hospital with covid-19, 20% were readmitted and 9% died within 60 days of discharge. After restricting follow-up in our study to the same length of time, we found similar prevalence rates of 23% and 9%, respectively. Our study extends these findings as we found that covid-19 was associated with dysfunction in a range of organs after discharge in a broader population of patients admitted to hospital.”

COVID variants reach escape velocity -- The dense worldwide transportation network constructed by humans is now powering so-called variants (mutations) of COVID-19 across the world from their countries of origin. The British variant (called B.1.1.7), the Brazilian variant (called P.1) and the South African variant (called B.1.351) are all racing across the globe. This shouldn't be surprising since all three are thought to be more contagious than the original virus.The Brazilian variant is thought to be capable of reinfecting people who have already had the original virus.And, it may have greater capabilities to evade the protections created by vaccines.That this is happening is no surprise to people who understand viruses, particularly those with knowledge of coronaviruses. Almost exactly one year ago I sat across  from a colleague at dinner who knows a lot about coronaviruses. Let me summarize what he told me: Coronaviruses mutate very frequently. There are a few (three or four) that cause what we call the common cold. There are other types of viruses that cause colds as well. Once you have a cold caused by a coronavirus, you are not permanently immune to colds caused by this group of viruses. The immunity wears off fairly quickly and in any case you might be infected by another version of the virus that causes colds. In addition, the coronaviruses that cause colds are constantly mutating making it impossible to create an effective vaccine that will cover all of them. The expectation is that even if a vaccine were possible, the immunity provided by it would not last. If COVID-19 acts like other coronaviruses—and there is no reason to believe it will not—then it is likely that there will be no effective vaccine even if many are initially developed and deployed. The CEO of pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson said last month that people may have to receive yearly doses of COVID-19 vaccines because of the proliferating mutations. That sounded at the time like an admission that COVID-19 would become endemic. But surely this CEO and people throughout the industry knew that this was likely from the start. They just failed to mention it when discussing vaccines publicly. I suspect that doing so would have been bad for business. It may turn out that even this pronouncement from Johnson & Johnson's CEO is too optimistic if my colleague's assessment is proven correct. We may then be forced to rely on public and individual health measures of the type I have written about twice previously (here and here).

Double-mutant COVID variant has been found: Here’s what that means --India’s Health Ministry has released a new report that reveals a new “double mutant” COVID-19 variant that has already started to spread across the country. A double mutation variant is “two mutations coming together in the same virus,” virologist Shahid Jameel told BBC News. India’s government said it collected samples from COVID-19 testing that showed “an increase in the fraction of samples with the E484Q and L452R mutations” compared to December 2020, according to BBC News.

  • The government said those variants had been found in 15% to 20% of all collected samples.
  • The L452R mutation originally emerged in California and has been seen in the two COVID-19 variants in that state.
  • The E484Q mutation has been reported in 11 different countries.

However, India said the new “double mutant” hasn’t led to an increase in cases yet. “Though (variants of concern) and a new double mutant variant have been found in India, these have not been detected in numbers sufficient to either establish or direct relationship or explain the rapid increase in cases in some states. Genomic sequencing and epidemiological studies are continuing to further analyze the situation,” according to the healthy ministry. Jameel, the virologist, told BBC News that a “double mutant” might make key changes to the virus that will allow it to evade vaccines. “A double mutation in the key areas of the virus’s spike protein may increase these risks and allow the virus to escape the immune system and make it more infectious,” he added.

Vaccines appear effective vs New York virus variant; super-spreader events drive variants (Reuters) - The following is a roundup of some of the latest scientific studies on the novel coronavirus and efforts to find treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

  • New York variant does not escape vaccines. Antibodies induced by the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines and the antibody therapy from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals all are able to neutralize a coronavirus variant on the rise in New York, lab experiments show. The New York variant contains mutations - E484K, S477N and D235G - that experts feared might reduce antibody efficacy. The new results "show that this potential problem is not going to be a problem," said Nathaniel Landau of New York University, who coauthored a report posted Wednesday on bioRxiv ahead of peer review. The mutations all cause changes to the spike protein the virus uses to infect cells and are located in the part of the spike protein where antibodies bind. The researchers exposed replicas of the New York variant to blood from recipients of either the vaccines or the Regeneron antibody combination used to treat infected patients. Antibodies induced by the vaccines were "very effective at binding to the altered spike protein," Landau said. The Regeneron therapy also was "still a potent blocker" of the virus. "The vaccines are very effective at stopping this highly contagious variant strain of SARS COV2 which is why it is more important than ever to get vaccinated," Landau said. (
  • Super-spreader events give life to virus variants.Super-spreader events, in which an infected person transmits the virus to many other people, are critical to the survival and predominance of new variants, researchers have found. If coronavirus transmission only occurs one person at a time, a new variant is unlikely to gain a foothold and will usually die out in the population by chance, said Daniel Reeves of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. "Even very strong variants can die out if they are 'unlucky' and don't happen by chance to be transmitted in a super-spread event," he added. His team's new mathematical models, posted on Wednesday on medRxiv ahead of peer review, show that early super-spreader events infecting more than five people are critical to a variant's survival, while super-spreader events infecting more than 20 people are critical to its eventual predominance. Even a very infectious new variant usually needs a super-spreader event to help it overtake a current variant, Reeves explained. The findings provide yet another reason to focus on preventing large super-spreader events by prohibiting large indoor gatherings, focusing on adequate ventilation indoors, and mandating highest quality masks (K95 or N95) when group exposures are unavoidable, the researchers concluded. (
  • Coronavirus can infect mouth tissues, spreading infection. The new coronavirus can infect salivary glands, which can then play a role in transmitting the virus to the lungs or digestive tract via saliva, according to a report published on Thursday in Nature Medicine. Researchers first studied mouth cells from healthy volunteers, looking for two proteins the coronavirus uses as entryways. Cells in the salivary glands and the gums expressed both proteins, making them vulnerable to infection. Next, researchers discovered genetic material from the virus in mouth tissues from COVID-19 patients, indicating infection. They also found evidence that the virus was replicating in some of these cells. Among 27 volunteers with mild COVID-19, those with virus in their saliva were more likely to report loss of taste and smell, suggesting that infected salivary glands might help explain some oral symptoms of COVID-19, the researchers said. "The study's findings suggest that the mouth, via infected oral cells, plays a bigger role in SARS-CoV-2 infection than previously thought," study coauthor Kevin Byrd of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said in a statement. "When infected saliva is swallowed or tiny particles of it are inhaled, we think it can potentially transmit SARS-CoV-2" further into the body." (

Factory Mix-Up Ruins Up to 15 Million J&J Coronavirus Vaccine Doses - — Workers at a plant in Baltimore manufacturing two coronavirus vaccines accidentally conflated the ingredients several weeks ago, contaminating up to 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine and forcing regulators to delay authorization of the plant’s production lines. The plant is run by Emergent BioSolutions, a manufacturing partner to both Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, the British-Swedish company whose vaccine has yet to be authorized for use in the United States. Federal officials attributed the mistake to human error. The mix-up has delayed future shipments of Johnson & Johnson doses in the United States while the Food and Drug Administration investigates what occurred. Johnson & Johnson has moved to strengthen its control over Emergent BioSolutions’ work to avoid additional quality lapses. The mistake is a major embarrassment both for Johnson & Johnson, whose one-dose vaccine has been credited with speeding up the national immunization program, and for Emergent, its subcontractor, which has faced fierce criticism for its heavy lobbying for federal contracts, especially for the government’s emergency health stockpile. The error does not affect any Johnson & Johnson doses that are currently being delivered and used nationwide, including the shipments that states are counting on next week. All those doses were produced in the Netherlands, where operations have been fully approved by federal regulators. Further shipments of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — expected to total 24 million doses in the next month — were supposed to come from the giant plant in Baltimore. Those deliveries are now in question while the quality control issues are sorted out, according to people familiar with the matter. Federal officials still expect to have enough doses from Johnson & Johnson and the other two approved coronavirus vaccine makers to meet President Biden’s commitment to provide enough vaccine to immunize every adult by the end of May. Pfizer is shipping its doses ahead of schedule, and Moderna is on the verge of winning approval to deliver vials of vaccine packed with up to 15 doses instead of 10, further bolstering the nation’s stock. The problems arose in a new plant that the federal government enlisted last year to produce vaccines from Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca. The two vaccines use the same technology employing a harmless version of a virus — known as a vector — that is transmitted into cells to make a protein that then stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies. But Johnson and Johnson’s and AstraZeneca’s vectors are biologically different and not interchangeable. In late February, one or more workers somehow confused the two during the production process, raising questions about training and supervision. In the past year, Emergent has hired and trained hundreds of new workers to produce millions of doses of both vaccines that were supposed to be ready by the time clinical trials showed whether the vaccines actually worked.

Reaction To COVID-19 Vaccine Caused Man's Skin To Peel Off: Doctors -  A reaction to Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine caused a severe rash that eventually led to a man’s skin peeling off, doctors and the man said. “It all just happened so fast. My skin peeled off. It’s still coming off on my hands now,” Richard Terrell, 74, of Virginia, told WRIC. Terrell received the shot earlier this month but was soon forced to go to the Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU) Medical Center for treatment. The issues began appearing four days after the injection. Discomfort turned into an itchy rash that began to swell. Graphic photographs show how Terrell’s legs and feet turned bright red as swelling intensified. “It was stinging, burning, and itching,” Terrell said. “Whenever I bent my arms or legs, like the inside of my knee, it was very painful where the skin was swollen and was rubbing against itself.” Fnu Nutan, a dermatology hospitalist at VCU, said doctors determined what happened to Terrell was a reaction to the vaccine. “We ruled out all the viral infections, we ruled out COVID-19 itself, we made sure that his kidneys and liver was okay, and finally we came to the conclusion that it was the vaccine that he had received that was the cause,” Nutan told WRIC.

Woman suffers agonizing rash after Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine - A 41-year-old Scottish woman who received a COVID-19 vaccine broke out in a severe rash that has left her in agony more than two weeks after her fateful jab, according to a report. Leigh King, of Wishaw in North Lanarkshire, got her first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on March 12 but is still suffering from intense pain from the rash, which covers her face, chest and arms, the Wishaw Press reports. “My skin was so sore and constantly hot. I have never felt pain like this – it has been a horrible experience,” said the hairdresser, the mother of a 13-year-old autistic boy named Aidan. “I am a very healthy person and am not on any medication or anything like that. I am not even in a vulnerable category,” King told the news outlet. “I only got the vaccine as I am an unpaid carer for my son, who has autism and mobility issues.” She added: “I haven’t even been able to care for him since I got the vaccine as I am in such pain.” King said she began to feel the alarming reaction almost immediately after receiving the shot at the Ravenscraig super center. “It was a horrible feeling. Never in my life was I prepared for what I was about to experience,” she said. “To say it’s been the worst time of my life is an absolute understatement.”

Pfizer Vaccine for 12 to 15 Year Olds Could Get Fall FDA Approval: Gottlieb -Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine could get FDA approval for 12 to 15 year olds "in time for the fall school year," the former FDA commissioner said.Scott Gottlieb was asked on CNBC on Tuesday when he thought the FDA could approve the vaccine for that age group. Gottlieb is also a member of Pfizer's board.His comments come after Pfizer announced on Wednesday that its vaccine was highly effective at preventing COVID-19 infection in kids aged 12 to 15 in a late-stage trial of more than 2,000 participants.Pfizer said it plans to submit the data to the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency to request for emergency authorization of the vaccine. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said: "We plan to submit these data to FDA as a proposed amendment to our Emergency Use Authorization in the coming weeks and to other regulators around the world, with the hope of starting to vaccinate this age group before the start of the next school year."

Christian Nationalism Is a Barrier to Mass Vaccination Against COVID-19 - While the majority of Americans either intend to get the COVID-19 vaccine or have already received their shots, getting white evangelicals to vaccination sites may prove more of a challenge – especially those who identify as Christian nationalists. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in February found white evangelicals to be the religious group least likely to say they’d be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Nearly half (45%) said they would not get the COVID-19 shot, compared with 30% of the general population. Some evangelicals have even linked coronavirus vaccinations to the “mark of the beast”– a symbol of submission to the Antichrist found in biblical prophecies, Revelation 13:18.  As a scholar of religion and society, I know that this skepticism among evangelicals has a background. Suspicion from religious conservatives regarding the COVID-19 vaccine is built on the back of their growing distrust of science, medicine and the global elite. Vaccine hesitancy is not restricted to immunization over COVID-19. In 2017, the Pew Research Center found that more than 20% of white evangelicals – more than any other group – believed that “parents should be able to decide not to vaccinate their children, even if that may create health risks for other children and adults.” Meanwhile, there are concerns that many white evangelicals are becoming more radical. Faith is not in itself an indication of extremism, but the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 showed that there is a problem when it comes to some evangelicals also holding extreme beliefs. White evangelicalism, in particular, has been susceptible to Christian nationalism– the belief that the U.S. is a Christian nation that should serve the interests of white Americans. Those who identify as Christian nationalists believe they are God’s chosen people and will be protected from any illness or disease.This proves problematic when it comes to vaccinations. A study earlier this year found Christian nationalists were far more likely to abstain from taking the COVID-19 vaccine. It builds on research that found Christian nationalism was a leading predictor of ignoring precautionary behaviors regarding coronavirus. Christian nationalists tend to place vaccinations within a worldview that generally distrusts science and scientists as a threat to the moral order. This was seen in the response of many on the religious right to guidance on masks and social distancing as well as, now, vaccines. This anti-vaccine attitude fits with the anti-government libertarianism that predominates among Christian nationalists. Many within the movement place this belief in freedom from government action within a traditional religious framework. They feel that COVID-19 is God’s divinely ordained message telling the world to change. If the government tells them to go against that idea and vaccinate, many of them they feel they are either going against God’s will or that the government is violating their religious freedom.  White evangelicals were the least likely religious group to support mandated closures of businesses, for example.

 CDC walks back claim that vaccinated people can't carry COVID - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has walked back the claim made by its director that vaccinated people don’t carry the coronavirus. CDC chief Rochelle Walensky said earlier this week that “vaccinated people do not carry the virus, don’t get sick.” But the health agency clarified the statement Thursday, saying “the evidence isn’t clear” and that Walensky was “speaking broadly.” “It’s possible that some people who are fully vaccinated could get COVID-19,” a CDC spokesperson told the New York Times. “The evidence isn’t clear whether they can spread the virus to others. We are continuing to evaluate the evidence.” Dr. Peter Bach, director of the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, said confusion about bulletproof immunity could lead to Americans refusing to wear a mask after getting the jabs. Residents and staff gather and dance during an Easter concert for vaccinated residents at the Ararat Nursing Facility in the Mission Hills on April 1, 2021, in Los Angeles. Residents and staff gather and dance during an Easter concert for vaccinated residents at the Ararat Nursing Facility in the Mission Hills on April 1, 2021, in Los Angeles. Mario Tama/Getty Images “This opens the door to the skeptics who think the government is sugarcoating the science,” Bach told the paper. On Monday, Walensky told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow: “Our data from the CDC today suggests that vaccinated people do not carry the virus, don’t get sick.” “And that it’s not just in the clinical trials, it’s also in real-world data,” she added.

CDC director warns of 'impending doom' on potential new COVID-19 surge --The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday warned of "impending doom" over rising coronavirus cases, telling the public that even though vaccines are being rolled out quickly, a fourth surge could happen if people don't start taking precautions. "I'm going to lose the script, and I'm going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom. We have so much to look forward to so much promise and potential of where we are, and so much reason for hope. But right now I'm scared," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing Monday. "We do not have the luxury of inaction," Walensky added. Walensky's warning comes a day after the United States surpassed 30 million cases of COVID-19, and cases are continuing to increase. According to Walensky, the seven day average of new cases is around 60,000 cases per day, a 10 percent increase over the past week. The numbers are still a far cry from the peak in January, but the rise comes after a sustained period of stagnation. "When we see that uptick in cases, what we have seen before is that things really have a tendency to surge, and surge big," Walensky said. Walensky said hospitalizations have also increased over the past week, as the most recent seven day average is about 4,800 admissions per day, up from 4,600 admissions per day in the prior seven days. She said that the country has come "such a long way" with three authorized vaccines and pleaded with the nation to keep following mitigation measures and "just please hold on a little while longer." The U.S. trends are mirroring what's happening in Europe, where nations are once again locking down amid a rapid increase in cases that is straining health care systems.

COVID Variant In Brazil Becoming More Concerning: ‘It May Be Able To Evade Immunity… It May Be More Deadly’ – – The news about COVID vaccine effectiveness continues to improve, but with some caution. The coronavirus variant that’s circulating in Brazil is becoming more concerning, both for infectiousness and for severity of disease.  As CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez, the good news comes from a CDC report Monday evaluating the effectiveness of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines in widespread, real world use.  Similar to clinical trial results, both vaccines prevented 90% of infections by two weeks after the second shot. Even one dose provided 80% protection. Just as importantly, the vaccines appeared to provide good protection against the variants that were circulating during the study period from December of last year until two weeks ago, which includes the U.K. and South Africa mutations. However, what is concerning is how these vaccines will work against the variant first identified in Brazil. “It seems that – and I’m using my words carefully here – that it’s more infectious, meaning spread more easily,” said Dr. Thomas Balcezak, chief clinical officer for the Yale New Haven Health system.  “It seems to have infected people who were already infected with the coronavirus and have had COVID-19 previously. So it may be able to evade immunity. And number three, there’s some beginning data here to suggest that it may be more deadly,” he said.  Gomez spoke recently with the CEO of Moderna, who committed his company to quickly generate a vaccine against any and every clinically significant variant that pops up. They’re already testing a vaccine against the South Africa variant. Balcezak and others emphasize that our best defense right now is to get as many people vaccinated as possible because when there’s less virus circulating, there’s less opportunity for the virus to mutate.

New COVID variants could reinfect people every few years, expert says - Different strains of the coronavirus will likely reinfect people every few years, according to a British medical expert. Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, predicts more variants of the virus could emerge even as the pandemic ends, according to a recent report. The World Health Organization has identified three variants of the coronavirus, including the South Africa and Brazil strains, which experts say could be resistant to vaccines. Hunter said it was “difficult to predict” how COVID will mutate, adding new strains might not lead to serious illness. Still, in an interview with BBC Radio 4, he urged governments to be vigilant as they reopen economies. “We do know that new variants develop, that’s very obvious, and some new variants spread and become dominant,” he said. “Many new variants just die out. … Ultimately with the other human coronaviruses, we expect to get reinfected on average every two to four years with the same virus.” The World Health Organization has identified three COVID variants that experts say could be resistant to vaccines.

Our Collective Long Covid - Yves Smith  -For some time, we’ve been pointing to information and developments that suggest that efforts to contain Covid are having only limited success. That means Covid will be with us a very long time. Yet there’s still a tremendous amount of wishful thinking and denial which has the potential to make this bad situation worse. Ambrit’s take yesterday: “The Pandemic is not even slowing down, yet, a false sense of triumphalism holds sway on that front” is consistent with by a Bloomberg article last week, When Will Covid End? We Must Start Planning For a Permanent Pandemic. In other words, even as the idea that Covid will be with us for years at best is moving from the fringes to a legitimate viewpoint, more and more people (outside the EU and UK) are acting on the assumption that normalcy is nigh. Consider:

  • Poor countries denied Covid vaccines until 2023. That means virus will keep circulating there. Even if these countries get to be very successful at identifying and distributing prophylactics, they have to be administered regularly, which is even more difficult logistically than administering vaccines, so there are certain to be large gaps in who will get these treatments. That insures that variants will keep developing.
  • Only temporary immunity.  Immunity to other common coronaviruses lasts anywhere from 6 months to 34 months. Various studies, like the large-scale periodic surveys in the UK, have suggested immunity lasts six months, and some have argued at least eight months. But then we come across datapoints like this one: SARS-CoV-2 seropositivity and subsequent infection risk in healthy young adults: a prospective cohort study:Seropositive young adults had about one-fifth the risk of subsequent infection compared with seronegative individuals.The “healthy young adults” were Marines undergoing basic training. Of the ones who had tested positive, 10% tested positive again during a six-week follow up. The reinfections were of the same strain.
  • We don’t know how much the vaccines reduce contagion. Given the concerted effort to vaccinate nursing home residents and staffs, the impressive decline in cases there points more to vaccine success among the vaccinated than in reducing transmission. The assumption has been that the vaccines will reduce disease spread since they considerably reduce the number of severe cases, and lower viral loads and fewer Covid coughs ought to mean less disease propagation.  But we now also know that mild and asymptomatic cases can spread the disease, and can also produce lasting damage, to lungs, kidneys, the heart, as well as long Covid.
  • Uncertainty about effectiveness of existing vaccines will be with new variants. mRNA vaccines are touted for speed of development, so it should come as no surprise that Pfizer and Moderna are looking into whether a third shot will be necessary to contend with new variants.
  • Vaccination levels won’t be high enough tamp down the disease. This is not new news but it bears repeating. From Bloomberg’s “permanent pandemic” piece: In the case of SARS-CoV-2, however, recent developments suggest that we may never achieve herd immunity. Even the U.S., which leads most other countries in vaccinations and already had large outbreaks, won’t get there. And from a newer story in Bloomberg: What that means is that new Covid cases will likely emerge in younger age groups. That occurred in Israel, where infections were recently plateauing despite the country’s world-leading immunization program. It turned out that cases among young people were surging, even as infections dropped in the 50-and-older crowd.
  • Lack of will to take stringent enough control measures. South Korea has shown how to get Covid down to a low enough level to allow for normal life to continue: impose strict quarantines for all incoming travelers, track and trace any new infections, and require those exposed to quarantine. In the West, we’ve only done leaky lockdowns and our quarantines have almost all been jokes (see New York as an example).
  • Inadequate official action compounded by optimism bias and compliance fatigue. Lambert and the Institute for New Economic Thinking both have warned that the CDC’s failure to take aerosol spread as a serious risk and its biased reading of other data have led it to recommend school reopenings without implementing adequate safety measures or pumping for improved ventilation.

It’s Time To Talk About Ivermectin  -- I am not a medical doctor. This article is not intended as medical advice. It’s a layman’s account of how an extremely cheap, safe and widely available off-patent medicine called ivermectin appears to be saving the lives of countless Covid-19 patients across Latin America and beyond. Yet hardly anybody is talking about it.  Here’s the caveat: The first section of the article, which was completed on Friday, is about Mexico City’s recent deployment of ivermectin in its fight against Covid-19. On Saturday, Mexico’s Ministry of Health jacked up its total excess death count due to Covid (for the whole country) by 60%, from 182,000 to 294,000. However, most of these deaths took place before Mexico City began using ivermectin as part of its its test-and-treat approach to Covid. . In many countries, locking down entire cities or regions and paying millions of non-essential workers not to work while front-line doctors and nurses battle to contain the virus is not an option. There simply isn’t enough money available. This has left doctors and health authorities with little choice but to try out cheap, widely available generic medicines. Those drugs include ivermectin, a “well-studied, well tolerated,” (in the words of a 2013 FT article) off-patent anti-parasitical. The results have been extremely promising, according to almost all of the clinical studies conducted thus far. Many of the studies took place in Latin America where around half of the countries in the region have used or are using ivermectin to some degree or another. A meta analysis of 42 clinical trials, involving approximately 15,000 patients, found that 83%  showed improvements with early treatment, 51% improved during late-stage treatment and there was an 89% prevention of onset rate noted. Yet the studies have received scant attention in more advanced economies — so much so that the vast majority of the people I talk to here in Europe have still not even heard of the medicine.

Fauci warns parents about children playing together without masks - Dr. Anthony Fauci on Sunday warned that vaccinated parents still need to worry about their children becoming infected while playing with other kids. “The children can clearly wind up getting infected,” Fauci told CBS anchor Margaret Brennan on “Face the Nation” when asked about the risk of kids playing in groups. The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said that while adults inoculated against COVID-19 don’t always have to wear masks around each other, children — who are not yet eligible for the jab — should wear them around each other. “When the children go out into the community, you want them to continue to wear masks when they’re interacting with groups or multiple households,” he said. But when asked whether kids can return to camp or playgrounds this summer, Fauci said it was “conceivable that will be possible.” “We now have 3 to 3.5 million vaccinations each day. If we keep up with that pace, invariably, that’s going to drive the rate and the level of infections per day to a much, much lower level,” Fauci said, adding that lower infection rates will enable the country to have a “good degree of flexibility during the summer … with things like camps.”

 COVID-19 cases in Chicago and throughout Illinois increase following reopening of schools and businesses - Cases of COVID-19 increased sharply in Chicago and the rest of Illinois over the past week, following the widespread reopening of elementary schools for in-person instruction and the relaxation of public health restrictions on restaurants and other businesses. Despite the spread of the disease and the danger posed by new coronavirus variants, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials have continued their push to get more students and educators back into classrooms for the start of the fourth quarter term on April 19. According to Chicago’s COVID Dashboard, the current citywide test positivity rate is 3.8 percent, based on a seven-day rolling average, up from the 3.0 percent the week before. Daily average cases in the city are up 407, a 27 percent increase over the last week. The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) classifies the current situation as “High Risk,” meaning there have been five days or more of 10 percent increases in cases over the previous week.Tragically, the increase in infections in Chicago resulted in the death this week of CPS student Zmaya Bell. Bell, an 18-year-old student at Simeon Career Academy, died of COVID-19-related complications on Wednesday, according to her family. The increase in cases is not limited to Chicago. COVID-19 infections are increasing throughout the state and the country, a consequence of the Biden administration’s push to reopen schools and the broader economy. In Illinois, schools remain the number one source of new COVID-19 infections, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). Schools account for 21.5 percent of cases, more than double the rate of the next highest category, Business or Retail establishments.IDPH data also indicates there are currently 16 school-based COVID-19 outbreaks, defined as five or more cases, across the state. Since the week beginning February 28, there have been 1,889 infections registered among children ages 5–11 and 3,046 registered among children 12–17. Chicago officials, like their counterparts nationally, have repeatedly claimed schools are “safe,” in contradiction to serious research which has found that closing schools is one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of coronavirus. Dr. Marielle Fricchione, CDPH’s medical director, even claimed in January that teachers are “very good at infection control” because they have an “innate sense” of whether things like surfaces or objects are clean because of their extensive experience being around sick children.

COVID-19 variant causing surge in Brazil has been detected in Shelby County  --Another dangerous COVID-19 variant has arrived in Memphis and Shelby County, the Shelby County Health Department confirmed Monday morning.  David Sweat, the deputy director of the health department, said local labs detected the P.1 strain of the novel coronavirus last Thursday and Friday. He said the labs, at first, detected two separate, unrelated cases and that more cases had been found over the weekend.  "There is concern obviously because of the trouble this variant is causing in Brazil and we're trying to investigate and learn as much as we can about the context of how this came here, but right now it's, it's an ongoing investigation," Sweat said.   The P.1 variant is roiling Brazil where it has caused a surge of cases and deaths.Scientists estimate it is more contagious, making it easier to pass from person-to-person. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the P.1 variant was first detected in the U.S. in January. News reports show that it has spread throughout the country and is now in Shelby County, per the health department.  This variant worries epidemiologists and public health officials because it has shown the capacity to reinfect people who have already had COVID-19 and there is unclear information about how effective the authorized coronavirus vaccines are against it. The news of P.1's arrival also comes after the county's transmission number — how many new cases each new infected person causes — has nearly doubled, going  from .59 on March 16 to 1.15 Monday. 

 COVID variants caused at least 2,700 infections in NY. What to know ---Coronavirus variants have caused at least 2,700 infections in New York state amid a dire push to ramp up COVID-19 vaccinations before the mutations ignite another pandemic surge, new state data show. Of the cases, one variant originally identified in New York City in November now accounted for nearly 2,300 infections, underscoring the threat posed by variants that could prove more contagious and deadlier than the original novel coronavirus. Indeed, confirmed cases of a variant linked to the United Kingdom have spiked in New York state from about 136 in late February to 464 as of last week. The rise in variant cases stemmed in part from increased testing that targeted mutations, suggesting scientists were finding more cases that went undetected previously. But the actual number of variant cases is also likely higher than reported because the numbers are a result of random sampling intended to track variants across the state. Further, early warning signs that COVID-19 vaccines could prove less effective against some coronavirus variants have come as recent progress towards ending the pandemic has slowed, with the daily tally of infections in New York and other states plateauing in recent weeks.While experts remained cautiously optimistic that rapidly rising vaccination rates outpaced infections linked to the growing list of variants, authorities emphasized the importance of getting enough people vaccinated to limit risks of extending the pandemic suffering. In addition to the New York variant, called B.1.526, and United Kingdom variant, called B.1.1.7, testing in New York state has confirmed five cases of the B.1.351, or South Africa variant; and one case of the P1, or Brazil variant, state data show.  Monroe County health officials last week also noted a variant first identified in California has been confirmed in their community. Meanwhile, in the most recent update, the U.S. last week reported 2,926 new variant cases in just one week, which is more than the country reported in December, January and February combined. By Jan. 2021, the variant represented about 3% of samples analyzed by researchers, rising to 12.3% by mid-February, according to a study by scientists at Columbia University

 New York health officials are worried South African and Brazil Covid variants will REINFECT people New York health officials are worried that some coronavirus variants will reinfect people who have had COVID-19 before.At a press conference on Tuesday, Dr Dave Chokshi, the city's health commissioner, said that reinfection appears to be rare. However, he noted that the coronavirus variants that were first identified in South Africa and Brazil have been show in lab studies to have a greater ability elude antibodies that the body generates after infection. '[They] do appear to be able to evade our immune response more so that some of the other variants of the virus,' Chokshi said. 'So that is something we are following closely and there appears to be evidence that those people who get those variants are more at risk of reinfection.' Both he and Mayor Bill de Blasio reiterated that the best way to protect yourself from reinfection is to get vaccinated. South Africa's variant was first announced by the health department in the Eastern Cape province of the county on December 18. It has 21 mutations, including one it shares with the variant first identified in the UK in a location on its genome known as N501Y. This variant first caught international attention when four travelers arriving to Tokyo from Manaus, Brazil, tested positive on January 2. The variant has the same spike protein mutation as the highly transmissible versions found in the UK and South Africa – named N501Y – which makes the spike better able to bind to receptors inside the body. However, very few cases of either variant have been identified in either New York City or the state. Just two cases of the South African variant and one of the Brazilian variant have been confirmed in the city, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH). In New York State, there have been five confirmed case of the South African variant and two confirmed cases of the Brazilian variant, according to The Journal News. Currently, the variant that is the most prevalent in the Big Apple is the homegrown New York City variant, B.1.526. The New York variant was first detected in samples collected in mid-November in Washington Heights, neighborhood in Upper Manhattan. It is thought to have had a chance to develop in a person who had advanced AIDS.

This Week in Virology: TWiV 737: SARS-CoV-2 in NYC wastewater (two hour video) John, Monica, and Davida join TWiV to discuss development of a method to detect SARS-CoV-2 in raw sewage from all 14 of New York City’s treatment plants, and its use to determine the presence of the genome throughout the pandemic and detection of genome mutations from variants of concern.

Amish community may have reached COVID ‘herd immunity,’ health official says -- An Amish community in Pennsylvania may have become the first group in the US to achieve herd immunity, a local health official claims. The administrator of a medical center in the heart of Lancaster County’s New Holland Borough, which is known for its Amish and Mennonite communities, estimates that as many as 90 percent of the religious families have had at least one family member infected with the virus. “So, you would think if COVID was as contagious as they say, it would go through like a tsunami; and it did,” said Allen Hoover, an administrator of the Parochial Medical Center, which caters to the religious community and has 33,000 patients. The Amish and Mennonite groups initially complied with stay-at-home orders at the beginning of the pandemic — shuttering schoolhouses and canceling church services. But by late April, they had resumed worship services, where they shared communion cups and holy kisses, a church greeting among believers. Soon after, the virus tore throughout the religious enclave. “It was bad here in the spring; one patient right after another,” said Pam Cooper, a physician’s assistant at the Parochial Medical Center. In late April and early May, the county’s positivity rate for COVID-19 tests exceeded 20 percent, according to nonprofit Covid Act Now. But Hoover said that it’s impossible to know the full extent of the virus outbreak since he estimates that fewer than 10 percent of patients displaying symptoms consented to being tested.

Roseville CA COVID-19 vaccine site to close for anime event - The Roseville site that serves as Placer’s main county-run vaccination center will be closed this Thursday and Friday as the venue hosts an anime event.A county webpage showing dates and times for COVID-19 vaccine appointments available at The Grounds, formerly the Placer County Fairgrounds, says the clinic will be closed April 1 and April 2 due to an “event at venue.”The event in question is a swap meet organized by SacAnime. According to websites for the venue and for SacAnime, the event will be held Friday through Sunday at The Grounds, with face masks required and social distancing protocols observed. County spokeswoman Katie Combs-Prichard in an emailed response to The Bee confirmed Thursday and Friday’s vaccine clinic closures are due to “pre-existing events” planned at The Grounds.  Additionally, Combs-Prichard said about 90% of this week’s roughly 5,400 appointments at The Grounds are second-dose appointments, “so closure or not, the impact on first dose appointments available in that time window is not very large,” she wrote. Still, some social media users criticized the event being held in lieu of vaccine clinics. “I’m so glad an anime convention is being held in the same area they’re administering vaccines,” one person commented on a recent SacAnime Facebook post. “Bonus points for delaying my

March 31 COVID-19 Vaccinations, New Cases, Hospitalizations --Note: I've been posting this data daily for over a year. I'll stop once 70% of the population over 18 has had at least one dose of vaccine, new cases are under 5,000 per day, and hospitalizations below 3,000.According to the CDC, 150.3 million doses have been administered. 21.1% of the population over 18 is fully vaccinated, and 37.7% of the population over 18 has had at least one dose (97.2 million people have had at least one dose).And check out COVID Act Now to see how each state is doing.  Almost 35,000 US deaths have been reported in March due to COVID. This graph shows the daily (columns) 7 day average (line) of positive tests reported.This data is from the CDC. The 7-day average is 62,542, up from 61,998 yesterday, and close to the summer surge peak of 67,337 on July 23rd. 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 33,376, up from 33,141 yesterday, and well above the post-summer surge low of 23,000.

The Fourth Surge Is Upon Us. This Time, It’s Different. Across the United States, cases have started rising again. In a few cities, even hospitalizations are ticking up. The twists and turns of a pandemic can be hard to predict, but this most recent increase was almost inevitable: A more transmissible and more deadly variant called B.1.1.7 has established itself at the precise moment when many regions are opening up rapidly by lifting mask mandates, indoor-gathering restrictions, and occupancy limits on gyms and restaurants. The good news is that this one is different. We now have an unparalleled supply of astonishingly efficacious vaccines being administered at an incredible clip. If we act quickly, this surge could be merely a blip for the United States. But if we move too slowly, more people will become infected by this terrible new variant, which is acutely dangerous to those who are not yet vaccinated. The United States has an advantage that countries such as Canada, France, Germany, and Italy, who are also experiencing surges from this variant, don’t. The Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines work very well against this variant, and the U.S. has been using them to vaccinate more than 3 million people a day. That’s more than 4 percent of our vaccine-eligible population every three days. An astonishing 73 percent of people over 65, and 36 percent of all eligible adults in the country, have already received at least one dose. More than 50 million people are now consideredfully vaccinated, having received either their booster dose or the “one and done” Johnson & Johnson shot. Many states have already opened up vaccination to anyone over 16, and everyone eligible is expected to have a chance to get at least a first dose no later than May. In addition, the United States has had one of the largest outbreaks in the world. This has caused us immense suffering and loss, but it also means that we are now less vulnerable to future waves. So far, 30 million people in the United States have had a confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, although the real (unmeasured) number is perhaps as high as 100 million. As expected, those people retain some level of immunity for a substantial amount of time. It’s hard to know exactly how long, because the virus is so new, but for SARS (the related coronavirus that almost sparked a pandemic in 2003), people who were infected retained an antibody response, and thus protection, for an average of two years. Though amazingly, the vaccines appear to provide better immunity than natural infection, those previously infected also gain defenses. Carefully done studies on large populations show a very low rate of reinfection for this coronavirus: less than 1 percent. Plus, many documented reinfections tend to be mild or asymptomatic, an unsurprising outcome given that in these cases the virus is no longer totally novel for the immune system, and thus not as catastrophic in its consequences.

Michigan, Minnesota see COVID-19 variant increases  More states are reporting increased B117 variant cases, the variant first identified in the United Kingdom that is roughly 50% more transmissible than the original COVID-19 strain. Today Minnesota confirmed the variant is now widespread in the state, accounting for more than half of the viruses in a sample selected for genetic sequencing. So far the state has detected 479 cases caused by B117. Across the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has tracked 7,501 B117 cases in 51 jurisdictions; that number is likely a gross underestimate, as it's based only on a samples selected for genomic surveillance. Officials from the White House and CDC have said in recent weeks that B117 likely represents 30% of COVID-19 cases in the country, and it will become the dominant strain by April. In another state that has recently reported increased B117 cases, Michigan reported its highest single-day positivity rate of 2021 on Monday, along with 3,579 new COVID-19 cases, according to mlive. The state is averaging 2,938 new cases per day.

 COVID variant could become dominant strain in RI by end of April, RIDOH medical director says --A coronavirus variant is on track to become the dominant strain of the virus this month, according to Dr. James McDonald from the R.I. Department of Health (RIDOH).“It looks like if you get infected with COVID in the next week or two, over half of those cases more likely or not, you probably have the B117 variant,” he explained. “We kind of expect by the end of April it might even be almost everybody at that point.”RIDOH Director Dr. Nicole Alexander Scott said it’s a foot race between the variant and the vaccine,during the state’s weekly coronavirus briefing Thursday.In other vaccine news, Pfizer announced Wednesday shots in kids as young as 12 have proven to be safe and strongly protective.“That was not a given so I was very excited about that,” McDonald said.

Over 100 fully vaccinated contract COVID in US state  -- A total of 102 people who have been fully vaccinated for the coronavirus have contracted the disease in the US state of Washington, according to officials on Wednesday. Officials reported 102 infections since Feb. 1 from among the 1.2 million who have been fully vaccinated for the virus in the northwestern state. Individuals have died in two cases, according to the Washington State Department of Health, which is investigating those older than 80 years old suffering from health issues. "Finding evidence of vaccine breakthrough cases reminds us that, even if you have been vaccinated, you still need to wear a mask, practice socially distancing, and wash your hands to prevent spreading COVID-19 to others who have not been vaccinated," said Washington State Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah. While the US has seen more than 551,000 coronavirus-related deaths, the number of cases is almost 30.4 million, according to Johns Hopkins University. Out of 189 million distributed doses of coronavirus vaccines in the US, 147 million have been administered as of early Tuesday, but fewer than 54 million people, or 16.1% of the population, have received two doses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

COVID-19: Tulare County sees first South Africa variant case --Three people in Tulare County have been confirmed to have caught variants of COVID-19 believed to be about 50% more infectious than the more common strain that’s been in circulation for more than a year. The cases include the Valley’s first confirmed incidence of the B.1.351 strain of the coronavirus, also known as the South African variant. The other two were identified as the so-called U.K. variant, B.1.1.7. They are the first known cases of variants of COVID-19 to turn up in Tulare County, according to health officials Friday. “Considering the national trend, we’ve been aware of the variants being present in our state as well as surrounding counties,” said Dr. Karen Haught, Tulare County’s public health officer. The cases were identified by genomic sequencing of samples tested by the Tulare County Public Health Laboratory. The B.1.1.7 variant was first identified last fall in the United Kingdom, and has since spread to more than 200 countries around the world. As of Thursday, the California Department of Public Health reported that there were 851 known cases of the B.1.1.7 strain in California. The B.1.351 strain was initially detected in South Africa in December and was first identified in the U.S. in late January, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ten cases of the South African strain have been confirmed in California. Both the U.K. and South African strains have been dubbed by state and national health officials as “variants of concern,” along with two closely related strains collectively called the “West Coast” or “California” variant.” The state health department reports that in addition to being more transmissible than the more common COVID-19 strain, the U.K. variant is believed to be associated with a higher risk of severe disease or death. The South African strain may be moderately less susceptible to antibody treatments used to care for mild, early-onset cases of COVID-19. Read more here:

Double mutant’ COVID-19 variant from India found in Bay Area – Another new form of the coronavirus, whose emergence in India is coinciding with a surge in cases, has been detected in the San Francisco Bay Area by Stanford University. One confirmed case and seven presumed cases of the Indian variant were found by Stanford’s Clinical Virology Laboratory, which has developed tests to detect the presence of viruses already spreading around the world. The cases involved Stanford patients. “This demonstrates the rapid spread of this variant,” said Dr. Ben Pinsky, medical director of the laboratory. The discovery of the strain, along with growing numbers of other versions of the virus, comes as no surprise to experts — viruses ignore international borders, traveling with people. But the variant – dubbed “double mutant” by Indian media — carries two worrisome mutations in a key part of the virus which help it latch onto cells. COVID-19 cases in India had been falling since September. But now an explosion of cases is occurring in the Maharashtra state, on India’s southwestern coast, which includes Mumbai. The region reported a 55% increase in this past week. Authorities suspect a link between the variant and the surge, although there are yet no lab studies of transmissibility. An analysis of samples collected from the Maharashtra region showed a recent rise in viruses with the variant’s two mutations, E484Q and L452R. Mumbai, the country’s financial, commercial and high-tech center, has close ties to the Bay Area. 

Canada pauses AstraZeneca vaccine for under 55 -- Canada on Monday suspended the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for people under age 55 following concerns it might be linked to rare blood clots. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization had recommended the pause for safety reasons and the Canadian provinces, which administer health in the country, announced the suspension Monday. “There is substantial uncertainty about the benefit of providing AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines to adults under 55 given the potential risks,” said Dr. Shelley Deeks, vice chair of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization. Deeks said the updated recommendations come amid new data from Europe that suggests the risk of blood clots is now potentially as high as one in 100,000, much higher than the one in one million risk believed before. She said most of the patients in Europe who developed a rare blood clot after vaccination with AstraZeneca were women under age 55, and the fatality rate among those who develop clots is as high as 40%. Dr. Joss Reimer of Manitoba’s Vaccine Implementation Task Force said despite the finding that there was no increase risk of blood clots overall related to AstraZeneca in Europe, a rare but very serious side effect has been seen primarily in young women in Europe. Reimer said the rare type of blood clot typically happens between four and 20 days after getting the shot and the symptoms can mirror a stroke or a heart attack.

WHO slammed for saying COVID-19 likely didn't originate from Wuhan lab --The World Health Organization is being slammed as Beijing’s “useful idiots” after it dismissed as “extremely unlikely” the theory that the deadly bug escaped from a Wuhan lab. A joint WHO-China study on the origins of the pandemic says that transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from bats to humans through another animal is the most likely scenario, according to a draft copy obtained by The Associated Press. The report’s release has been delayed, raising questions about Beijing’s side trying to skew the conclusions to prevent blame for the pandemic falling on China. A WHO official said late last week that he expected the report would be ready for release “in the next few days.” The AP received a copy on Monday from a Geneva-based diplomat from a WHO-member country. It was unclear whether the report might still be changed prior to release, though the diplomat said it was the final version. Another diplomat also confirmed receiving the report. Both refused to be identified because they were not authorized to release it before publication. New York Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin blasted Beijing for the way it handled the outbreak.  U.S. Supreme Court takes up bid to revive defense of Kentucky abortion law | Reuters

Brazil faces the coronavirus abyss. It has the highest daily deaths in the world and the COVID-19 crisis is going to get worse, experts warn.-  Brazil is facing the coronavirus abyss. Deaths are spiraling and crematoriums are struggling to keep up, according to reports.The county currently has far more daily COVID-19 deaths than any other nation in the world, the Associated Press reported.Brazil reported 3,368 new coronavirus-related deaths on Saturday, according to Worldometers.The seven-day average — 2,542 daily deaths — accounts for over a quarter (26 percent) of the world's total death toll, according to Our World In Data.There have been so many deaths that burials are happening in Sao Paulo cemeteries every few minutes, CNN reported.Crematoriums can't keep up, the media outlet reported. At one facility, CNN said, the demand for cremations exceeded its daily capability by three times.The situation is bleak and, according to experts, is set to only get worse."We have surpassed levels never imagined for a country with a public health care system, a history of efficient immunization campaigns, and health workers who are second to none in the world," Miguel Nicolelis, a professor of Neurobiology, said in an interview with AP.  "The next stage is the health system collapse."The healthcare system is buckling under the pressure, AP reported. Almost all intensive care units are at or near capacity, the news agency said.Daily deaths could also soon reach peaks of 4,000, an expert told AP. "Four thousand deaths a day seems to be right around the corner," Dr. Jose Antonio Curiati, a supervisor at a Sao Paulo hospital, said. A highly contagious variant is wreaking havoc, contributing to the country's 300,000+ COVID-19 deaths so far.President Jair Bolsonaro's critics are also placing the blame on the leader's resistance to introducing lockdown restrictions. Bolsonaro has repeatedly said that lockdowns aren't viable for the economy and has instead continued to promote baseless COVID-19 treatments, The New York Times reported.He has referred to governors and mayors who planned to introduce lockdown measures as "tyrants," BBC reported.Earlier this month, Bolsonaro told Brazilians to "stop whining"about the virus.

Mexico reports 417,002 excess deaths during the pandemic - On Saturday, the Mexican Health Ministry published a report acknowledging that the COVID-19 death toll is at least 60 percent higher than the official count of 201,623 deaths. The country has confirmed 2.23 million cases, which are also vastly under-reported. The ministry found that between December 20, 2019, and February 13, 2021, Mexico recorded a total of 417,002 excess deaths—i.e., above those “expected” based on the weekly averages from 2015 to 2019. Employing “word searches” of death certificates “where possible” that “mention words such as COVID-19, SARS-Cov-2, Coronavirus, among others” and an algorithmic extrapolation, the report estimates that 294,287 of these excess deaths are “associated to COVID-19.” In this April 29, 2020 file photo, Aurora Azamar reacts after learning that her mother died, believed from complications related to the coronavirus, outside a public hospital in the Iztapalapa neighborhood of Mexico City. Since February 13, the government has confirmed 28,419 more deaths, raising the total to 322,706. This places Mexico as the country with the second highest death toll in the world after the United States. While the figure is higher than the 312,206 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Brazil, hospitals and morgues in the country have been overwhelmed for weeks and countless COVID-19 deaths, particularly in slums and remote areas, are also going unrecorded. Mexican engineer Alejandro Cano found that if Mexico had maintained the same per capita excess mortality as Brazil—whose population is 60 percent greater—about 232,000 people would still be alive in Mexico. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been sacrificed to defend the massive fortunes and profits of the financial and corporate oligarchies throughout the world. . While refusing to ramp up testing levels, the Mexican ruling elite has used phony official figures to justify premature reopenings. Malaquías López, a member of the coronavirus task force at the Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), said to daily Reforma on Sunday: “We don’t know what the real undercount is because all reports are impossible to interpret. … We could even add to those cases the 182,301 records confirmed by the epidemiological monitoring system [but untested], whose inclusion in the excess toll is not indicated—we could be talking of a figure closer to 500,000 deaths. The number is brutal.”

Philippines orders lockdown through Easter amid COVID-19 surge -The Philippines will go under a lockdown through Easter after the country confirmed a record-breaking 9,829 cases on Saturday. Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque made the announcement on Saturday, CNN reports, with the lockdown set to last one week from March 29-April 4, which is Easter Sunday. The Philippines is a majority-Catholic country and this lockdown will likely prevent millions from observing the holiday as they normally would with church services. The lockdown also includes a curfew from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. and gatherings of more than 10 people outside have been barred. Non-household members are not permitted to gather indoors. Indoor dining will be prohibited for the following week, though takeout and delivery will still be allowed. Thousands of officers have been deployed by the Philippine National Police to enforce the new rules, CNN reports. The outlet notes that vaccines have begun to be sent out to front-line medical workers, with the Filipino Department of Health urging nonmedical workers to not jump the line for vaccines. CDC director warns of 'impending doom' on potential new COVID-19 surge Biden announces 90 percent of adults to be eligible for vaccine by... "Do not worry. Our goal is still to ensure that everybody will be vaccinated," Carlito Galvez, chief implementer of the National Task Force Against Covid-19, said. "But while we do this, the government is prioritizing healthcare workers as they are the most exposed and the most at risk of getting Covid." "More vaccines will arrive, we are sure of that. We just have to wait for our turns to be vaccinated," Galvez added. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 300,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines have been administered in the Philippines.

India suspends export of COVID-19 vaccines - India’s right-wing authoritarian Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has suspended exports of COVID-19 vaccines for at least two months. This decision will severely impact vaccination programs in lower- and middle-income countries in Africa, Latin America and the rest of Asia, contributing to the further spread of the pandemic, including the new more contagious and lethal variants. The BJP government has yet to issue an official statement announcing that it is suspending COVID-19 vaccine exports. However, Indian and international media have quoted “government sources” justifying the decision by pointing to increasing domestic requirements under conditions of a dramatic rise of infections within India in recent weeks. An official source quoted by the Chennai-based daily the Hindu said last Wednesday night, “Given our current manufacturing capacity and requirements of national vaccination programmes, there may be a need to calibrate the supply schedules from time to time. All stakeholders would have to work together to adjust the schedules as required.” A man comes out after receiving COVID- 19 vaccine at a government hospital, in New Delhi, India, Monday, March 22, 2021. India has reported its highest number of coronavirus cases since October, amid a worrying surge that has prompted multiple states to return to some form of restrictions on public gathering. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup) In an attempt to downplay the implications of the government’s decision, he claimed that India—the world’s leading exporter of generic medicines—remains “committed” to providing vaccine supplies to the world. He said that “unlike many other countries,” the Indian government has not placed an official ban on vaccine exports, but the policy he and other officials went on to outline is a ban in all but name. According to the officials, exports will now take place in a phased manner, “keeping in view the domestic requirements.” Moreover, while all pending orders will ultimately be delivered, new orders will not be accepted for several months. However the Narendra Modi-led BJP government chooses to justify its decision and downplay its impact, the reality is its suspension of vaccine exports is bound up with the reactionary nationalist calculations of India’s ruling elite. It is the Indian version of the “vaccine nationalism” pursued by governments in the US and Europe, which have subordinated the production and distribution of vaccines to the drive for profit and the geopolitical interests of the various competing ruling elites. .

 COVID-19 contagion accelerates across Europe amid chaotic vaccine rollout - Coronavirus deaths are soaring across Europe, which passed 900,000 COVID-19 deaths in mid-March, with over 39 million recorded cases. The United Kingdom has Europe’s highest official death total, at 126,615, followed by Italy (108,350), Russia (96,413), France (95,114), Germany (76,139), Spain (75,199) and Poland (51,932). These figures represent a major undercounting, as excess mortality statistics show significantly higher numbers. Since mid-February, nearly every country on the continent has seen a rapid rise in daily cases and deaths. Last week, nearly 25,000 people died of the virus in Europe, the highest seven-day total in a month. Europe is on track to see a staggering 1 million dead before the end of April, becoming the first continent to reach this milestone. Central and Eastern Europe are currently the worst affected. Last Friday, Poland and Hungary both recorded their highest ever one-day COVID-19 infection totals: 35,145 and 11,265, respectively. On Saturday, Ukraine (29,458 new cases) and Serbia (9,722) registered record daily infection totals. Ukraine and Hungary suffered their highest coronavirus death tolls last week, with 2,057 and 1,710 fatalities recorded in a seven-day period. Serbia, with a population of less than 7 million, reported a record 76 deaths on Saturday. France has also been particularly badly hit, as the explosion of cases overwhelms hospitals across the country. Around 90 percent of intensive care unit (ICU) beds in France are now occupied. On Monday, 4,974 patients were in ICUs, the most since April 2020. A further 28,322 people are currently hospitalised in France with coronavirus. Doctors in France are demanding a strict lockdown, with Eric D’Ortenzio, an epidemiologist at Inserm (the National Institute of Health and Medical Research), telling Le Parisien that a lockdown should last “a month at the minimum”. Another epidemiologist told the same newspaper that France must “strictly lock down, as in March 2020, for at least six weeks.” President Macron is expected to announce further restrictions tonight. A similarly catastrophic story is repeated across Europe. ICU occupancy in the Greek capital of Athens reached 95 percent in mid-March. The Polish health care system is stretched to its limit, with hospitals so full that extra beds are erected in corridors. On March 21, Poland reached a record high 23,583 hospitalised COVID-19 patients.

 New coronavirus variant identified in Europe - A new coronavirus variant has been identified by the University of Liege in Belgium with a number of key spike mutations and a spike insertion, Deutsche Welle reported on Monday. The variant, B.1.214.2, has been sequenced 332 times and was first identified in Switzerland, although over half of all the sequences are from Belgium, according to PANGO Lineages (Phylogenetic Assignment of Named Global Outbreak). The variant has also been identified in France, Britain, Ireland, Germany, Portugal, the US, Senegal, the Netherlands and Bulgaria. The origin of the variant is still unknown, but it is descended from another one first identified in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in April of last year, according to German international broadcaster. It is still unclear whether or not the new variant is more contagious or severe. The variant joins a series of coronavirus variants detected around the world, including the South African variant, the UK variant, the Brazilian variants, the New York variant, the California variant and the German variant, among others.

German vaccine commission says people under 60 shouldn't receive AstraZeneca second dose - A German vaccine commission is advising people under the age of 60 that have received their first dose of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine to not receive their second dose.Reuters reported that the committee, called STIKO, recommended that people receive a dose of an mRNA-based vaccine, such as those from Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna, 12 weeks after receiving their first AstraZeneca dose.“Until the appropriate data is available, STIKO recommends for people under 60 years old that instead of the second AstraZeneca dose, a dose of an mRNA-vaccine should be given 12 weeks after the first vaccine,” STIKO said, according to Reuters.STIKO noted that here was no scientific evidence on the safety of a mixed series of vaccines, according to the wire service. The recommendation comes after Germany suspended the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine for those under the age of 60 over concerns of a rare occurrence of blood clots found in a small number of people that received the vaccine.STIKO at the time planned on releasing recommendations for those who had received their first dose by the end of April.A handful of countries have paused or suspended the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine amid reports of blood clots in a small percentage of patients.

Brazil registers 3,780 new deaths from Covid-19, a new daily record (March 30) -- Brazil registered 84,494 new cases and 3,780 deaths associated with the coronavirus in the last 24 hours, setting a new daily record for deaths, the Ministry of Health reported on Tuesday, March 30, in its most recent epidemiological bulletin. According to official government figures, the highest number of daily deaths in the thirteen months of the pandemic was recorded between Monday and Tuesday, a figure that comes in the midst of more severe confinement measures, social isolation, and closure of non-essential activities decreed by governors and mayors.

Brazil: More than 60,000 people died of Covid-19 in March - BBC News Some 66,570 people in Brazil died of Covid-19 in March, more than double the previous monthly record, figures show. The country's health service has been pushed to the brink as cases of the virus continue to climb. President Jair Bolsonaro has faced intense criticism for his handling of the crisis and was hit by high-profile resignations this week. But on Wednesday he again railed against lockdown measures imposed by local governors and mayors. "We had, and we have, two enemies - the virus and unemployment! It is a reality! We are not going to solve this problem by staying at home," he said. Wednesday also saw a further 3,800 new deaths and over 90,000 new coronavirus cases. Brazil's daily deaths currently account for about a quarter of all coronavirus fatalities in the world. What is the Brazil variant and do vaccines work against it? New chiefs of the army, navy and air force were announced on Wednesday to replace those who resigned on Tuesday in an apparent protest at the sudden sacking of Defence Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva. Mr Bolsonaro and his minister had clashed over the issue of the armed forces' loyalty, which the defence minister said should be directed to upholding the constitution rather than supporting the president personally.

Chinese COVID-19 vaccines have neutralizing effect on mutant strains found in South Africa, UK -  The COVID-19 vaccines that have been marketed in China have a neutralizing effect on some mutated viruses, including the ones found in the UK and South Africa, according to Sinopharm and Sinovac. Sinopharm has been testing the antiviral mutation ability of vaccines already on the market in China, such as the inactivated vaccine developed by Sinopharm, to study whether the mutation of the virus would alter the efficacy of the vaccine, said Zhang Yuntao, vice president and chief scientist of China National Biotec Group (CNBG), a Sinopharm subsidiary, at a press conference on Sunday. Two inactivated vaccines from Sinopharm have been used in a crossover trial on the strains found in South Africa and the UK as well as more than 10 strains found in different regions in China, using the serum after the phase II and III clinical trials in China and overseas, he said. The results showed that the neutralizing antibodies produced by the two inactivated vaccines neutralized these strains well. He also noted that Sinopharm is conducting neutralization trial monitoring on the strains found in Brazil and Zimbabwe. At the press conference, Gao Qiang, general manager of Sinovac, another producer of COVID-19 vaccines, said that Sinovac has also carried out studies on the protection of its CoronaVac vaccine against the variant strains found in various countries in cooperation with several research institutions. Sinopharm carried out neutralization trials on the variant strains in 10 countries during the initial stage of the study and the results showed that the vaccine developed at the time was protective against the variant strains discovered in each country, Zhang said. Sinovac also used the strain discovered in Wuhan and the newly mutated strains found in the UK and South Africa to conduct the neutralizing antibody detection of immune serum after vaccination in 2021, and test results showed that the seroconversion rate was 100 percent after a dose of vaccine against the strains found in Wuhan and the UK, and 97 percent against the strains discovered in South Africa. The overall antibody level between the strains discovered in Wuhan and the UK was basically the same, he said. China has administered more than 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines as of Saturday, the National Health Commission announced at a press conference on Sunday. The country's global supply of COVID-19 vaccines also topped 100 million doses as of Friday. The inactivated vaccine developed by Sinopharm has been used in 50 countries and regions around the world. Zhang said the population sample size and large scale fully demonstrate the broad spectrum effect of the inactivated vaccine.

UK strain behind surge in Punjab’s Covid cases | Hindustan Times --The high presence of the UK strain of Covid-19 has led to a steep rise in active cases in Punjab with the state already registering a bigger surge in cases this time as compared to the first wave last year. Though the state health department is still not sure if the strain, which spreads 70% faster, made its way to Punjab through travellers from the United Kingdom, the government is considering its high prevalence as the prime reason for the spike. 80% of samples of Covid positive people sent for genome sequencing to the Pune laboratory in March were found having the UK strain. The strain was found in 10 of the 22 districts of Punjab with a maximum of 106 samples belonging to Mohali district. This was followed by Amritsar (94), Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar (56), Faridkot (18) and Patiala (15). “During our meetings with the Government of India as well, we haven’t heard much about the high presence of the UK strain in other states as is there in Punjab. So obviously the strain can be termed as the main reason behind the faster surge,” state principal secretary, health and family welfare, Hussan Lal said. According to the Union health ministry data released on Saturday, Covid-19 cases increased 12-fold in Punjab between February 3 and April 3 at a rate that surpasses Maharashtra’s nine-fold case growth rate during the period. The faster rate of infection due to this strain can be judged from the fact that in the past one week, the state has added more than 20,000 new cases. When the state had hit the peak in September last year, the maximum single-day hike was of 2,896 infections on September 17. With experts predicting the second wave peak in the third week of April, the state has already broken last year’s records by registering a single-day hike of 3,176 cases on March 26. In the past week, the state’s ratio of active cases reached 10%, which is the highest ever of the first and the current wave. In September, Punjab saw a single-day spike of more than 2,000 cases a day on nine occasions, in this wave, between March 15 to April 3, the state has seen more than 2,000 cases for 12 occasions. SBS Nagar, where the maximum cases of the UK strain were detected, has at present the highest number of active cases of 3,414 in Punjab, followed by 3,297 in Amritsar, which is at the second spot in terms of the presence of the UK strain.

Strain on NHS as tens of thousands of staff suffer long Covid --Intense pressures on the already overstretched NHS are being exacerbated by the tens of thousands of health staff who are sick with long Covid, doctors and hospital bosses say. At least 122,000 NHS personnel have the condition, the Office for National Statistics disclosed in a detailed report that showed 1.1 million people in the UK were affected by the condition. That is more than any other occupational group and ahead of teachers, of whom 114,000 have it. Patient care is being hit because many of those struggling with long Covid are only able to work part-time, are too unwell to perform their usual duties, or often need time off because they are in pain, exhausted or have “brain fog”. “Ongoing illness can have a devastating impact on individual doctors, both physically and by leaving them unable to work. Furthermore, it puts a huge strain on the health service, which was already vastly understaffed before the pandemic hit,” said Dr Helena McKeown, the workforce lead at the British Medical Association, which represents doctors. “With around 30,000 sickness absences currently linked to Covid in the NHS in England, we cannot afford to let any more staff become ill. Simply put, if they are off sick, they’re unable to provide care and patients will not get the care and treatment they need. “In the longer term, if more staff face ongoing illness from past Covid-19 infection, the implications for overall workforce numbers will be disastrous.” “Long Covid is a real and growing concern for trust leaders because of its impact on the health and wellbeing of the NHS staff affected and the effect their unavoidable absence has on the ability to deliver healthcare services. “It is particularly worrying that in the latest ONS data healthcare workers self-reported the highest rates of long Covid among all professions, with nearly 4% – accounting for about 122,000 of the estimated 1.094 million people in the UK reporting ongoing symptoms.” Dealing with long Covid will be “a significant challenge [for the NHS] for months and most likely years to come”, he added.

Numerous Hand Sanitizers Test Positive for Dangerous Carcinogen --As people rushed to buy hand sanitizer during the first months of the pandemic, new brands emerged to fill the gap left by more well-known labels. But in the frenzy, some manufacturers appear to have cut corners.Last year, several hand sanitizer brands were recalled by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for containing toxic methanol, or wood alcohol. Now, tests from independent pharmacy and lab Valisure have found high concentrations of benzene in hand sanitizers, an industrial chemical known to cause cancer in humans. "I was shocked that we were finding benzene at all," Valisure CEO David Light told CBS News. "It might very well be the most well known... compound that is dangerous to humans." Valisure tested 260 hand sanitizer products from 168 brands, and found that 44 of them tested positive for some amount of benzene. The FDA typically bans benzene in drug manufacturing. However, due to the high demand for hand sanitizer prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, it allowed an interim limit of two parts per million in liquid hand sanitizers. Twenty one products that Valisure tested had benzene levels above this limit. The most contaminated hand sanitizer is from Artnaturals and contains 16 parts per million of benzene,Bloomberg reported. Other highly contaminated batches include products from Scentsational Soaps and Candles Inc., The Creme Shop and a Best Brands Consumer Products sanitizer sold in a Baby Yoda-themed bottle. The full list of contaminated products can be found here. What's particularly concerning is how benzene is absorbed and how hand sanitizer is used, Valisure noted. For example, benzene is known to cause blood cancers such as leukemia. This makes the possibility that it could be absorbed through the skin especially worrisome, as FDA studies have determined that chemicals with a similar structure, such as sunscreen, can appear in the bloodstream after being applied to the skin.Further, there are no recommended guidelines for how often a person should use hand sanitizer, raising the alarm that people could be exposed to high concentrations of benzene.Valisure filed a petition with the FDA on Wednesday asking them to recall the contaminated products and set exposure limit guidance for benzene.  Meanwhile, the FDA said that it tests hand sanitizers and works with companies on recalls. However, manufacturers were ultimately responsible for the products they sold.However, watchdog group Public Citizen said the FDA should not be allowing any benzene in hand sanitizers. "It has been taken out of most products, and for it not to be taken out of a product that is here to prevent people from getting exposed to coronavirus is inexcusable,"  If it is possible to have hand sanitizers that don't have any detectable levels, it is inexcusable that the FDA doesn't ban any hand sanitizer that contains any detectable level."

Brain-damaging Lead Found in Tap Water From Most Illinois Communities During the Past 6 Years –More than 8 of every 10 Illinoisans live in a community where brain-damaging lead was found in the tap water of at least one home during the past six years, a new Chicago Tribune analysis found. The alarming results are from a limited number of samples collected under federal regulations by the state’s 1,768 water utilities. Depending on the number of people served by each utility, only a handful or a few dozen homes are occasionally monitored, but when combined the tests provide snapshots of a widespread threat to public health that for decades has been largely ignored. Most exposure to lead in water can be traced to pipes known as service lines that connect homes to municipal water supplies. Illinois has more service lines made of the toxic metal than any other state. Chicago has more than any other city. “Too many people still get their water from what essentially is a lead straw,” said Miguel del Toral, a retired U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientist who discovered high levels of toxic metal in water at homes in Flint, Michigan, and East Chicago, Indiana. Between 2015 and 2020, tap water in dozens of Illinois homes had hundreds and even thousands of parts per billion of lead — just as extreme as what researchers found during the same period in Flint, where mismanagement of the public water system exposed children to the toxic metal and drew a world spotlight to the scourge. East Moline found one home with 3,000 ppb of lead in tap water, records show. The Rockford suburb of Loves Park detected 2,700 ppb of lead in a home. Southwest of Joliet, the water system in Coal City found 1,260 ppb of lead in one of its samples.Utilities in the three cities were among 224 statewide where at least one home had lead levels at or above 40 ppb, a threshold the U.S. EPA once declared an “imminent and substantial threat to pregnant women and young children.” Others in the Chicago area included Bartlett, Cicero, Lake Barrington, South Elgin and Wauconda. Nearly 60% of the state’s water systems found at least one home with levels greater than 5 ppb — the Food and Drug Administration’s limit for bottled water. By far the state’s worst lead-in-water problems in recent years are in University Park, a south suburb on the border of Cook and Will counties.Samples of tap water collected since 2019 in the predominantly Black community contained as much as 5,300 ppb of lead and averaged 54 ppb, according to the Tribune analysis of data obtained from the Illinois EPA through a Freedom of Information Act request. “There is no training for a water crisis,” said Mayor Joseph Roudez, who took office less than a month before the staggeringly high levels of lead began turning up across the village, including at his own home. “The experience has been horrible, and it’s still horrible.”  The U.S. EPA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stress that lead is unsafe to consume at any level. More than 400,000 deaths a year in the U.S. are linked to the toxic metal. Even tiny concentrations can permanently damage the developing brains of children and contribute to heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney failure and other health problems later in life.

The State of Wisconsin Issues an Interim Area-Wide Drinking Water Advisory for the Town of Campbell – The state of Wisconsin is stepping in to help the Town of Campbell, where close to 200 wells are contaminated with dangerous man-made chemicals.Under the interim area-wide drinking water advisory, the DNR will continue to provide water to any family on French Island if they are not already getting bottled water from the City of La Crosse.As News 8 Now first reported in January, the wells are contaminated with PFAS; man-made compounds that have been linked in infertility, Thyroid disease, and cancer. PFAS was used to produce the firefighting foam sprayed at the La Crosse airport for decades. According to the DNR, It spread through the groundwater and into private wells off airport property.As of March 25, 184 wells have tested positive for PFAS; roughly half at levels above what the state considers safe. There could be more. We don’t know how many, because the City of La Crosse has refused to test the entire island.The DNR’s advisory is significant. It frees up money for the DNR to provide bottled water to any resident not already receiving bottled water through the city. It also allows the DNR yo expand testing to neighborhoods outside the City of La Crosse’s testing area. “It’s an art and science to find out where this groundwater contamination is moving. So, it won’t always be self-evident on exactly where to sample, but we will do our best right now to get a general overview of where we think the private contamination has moved to.”, says DNR’s Darsi Foss.

PFAS in the House: Are toxic “forever chemicals” a steady drip in this reporter’s home? -- After spending several months reporting on the PFAS crisis, an alarming realization hit — taco night might be poisoning me.I learned that the type of nonstick pans that I used to fry the fish usually contain the toxic chemicals, also called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. Research alerted me to their use in some types of parchment paper used to roll tortillas, while the aluminum foil in which I wrapped leftovers raised a red flag with its “nonstick” label. For dessert, I purchased cookies that a local bakery packed in the type of paper bags sometimes treated with PFAS, and the chemicals may have been in my tap water and fish.But PFAS, dubbed “forever chemicals” because they don’t naturally break down, aren’t only lurking in the kitchen. The synthetic compounds are often used to make thousands of everyday products water, stain and grease resistant, and they’re popular with manufacturers across dozens of industries because they’re so effective. That’s a problem because the class of around 4,700 compounds is linked to serious health problems like cancer, heart disease, birth defects, liver disease and decreased immunity.The extent of PFAS contamination is only now coming into focus — recent studies have found drinking water supplies for well over 100 million people across demographic lines may  be contaminated by the chemicals. It’s estimated that they’re present in 97% of Americans’ blood, and public health advocates are just starting to understand how widespread their use is in everyday products.Research has found that PFAS might also be in my dental floss, waterproof boots, umbrella, mattress pad, bike chain lube, cell phone, clothing, camping gear, and more. They’re used in a range of personal care products from moisturizer to bar soap to cosmetics by a number of brands. Meanwhile, my couch and carpet may have been treated with Scotchgard or other stain guards that use PFAS to make products stain resistant. The more I dug into the chemicals’ myriad uses, the more I found that I’m potentially exposed to them in nearly every facet of daily life in my house.

 Air pollution and physical exercise: when to do more or less --The researchers from Seoul National University College of Medicine (South Korea), led by Professor Sang Min Park, looked at information from the National Health Insurance Service (NHIS) in South Korea for 1,469,972 young Koreans living in cities, who underwent two consecutive health examinations during two screening periods: 2009-2010 and 2011-2012. They followed up the participants from January 2013 to December 2018.At each health check-up the participants completed a questionnaire asking about their physical activity in the past seven days and this information was converted into units of metabolic equivalent task (MET) minutes per week (MET-mins/week). The participants were divided into four groups: 0, 1-499, 500-999 and 1000 or more MET-mins/week. European Society of Cardiology guidelines recommend people should try to do 500-999 MET-mins/week and this can be achieved by, for example, running, cycling or hiking for 15-30 minutes five times a week, or brisk walking, doubles tennis or slow cycling for 30-60 minutes five times a week. [2]The researchers used data from the National Ambient Air Monitoring System in South Korea to calculate annual average levels of air pollution, in particular the levels of small particulate matter that are less than or equal to 10 or 2.5 microns in diameter, known as PM10 and PM2.5 [3]. The amount of exposure to air pollution was categorised at two levels: low to moderate (less than 49.92 and 26.43 micrograms per cubic metre, μm/m3, for PM10 and PM2.5 respectively), and high (49.92 and 26.46 μm/m3 or more, respectively). [3]Dr Seong Rae Kim, first author of the paper, said: "We found that in young adults aged 20-39 years old, the risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as stroke and heart attack, increased as the amount of physical activity decreased between the two screening periods in the group with low levels of exposure to air pollution."However, in the group with high levels of exposure to air pollution, increasing the amount of physical activity to more than 1000 MET-min/week, which is more than internationally recommended levels for physical activity, could adversely affect cardiovascular health. This is an important result suggesting that, unlike middle-aged people over 40, excessive physical activity may not always be beneficial for cardiovascular health in younger adults when they are exposed to high concentrations of air pollution."

Toxic impact of pesticides on bees has doubled, study shows  - The toxic impact of pesticides on bees and other pollinators has doubled in a decade, new research shows, despite a fall in the amount of pesticide used. Modern pesticides have much lower toxicity to people, wild mammals and birds and are applied in lower amounts, but they are even more toxic to invertebrates. The study shows the higher toxicity outweighs the lower volumes, leading to a more deadly overall impact on pollinators and waterborne insects such as dragonflies and mayflies. The scientists said their work contradicts claims that declines in the amount of pesticides used is reducing their environmental impact. The research also shows that the toxic impact of pesticides used on genetically modified crops remains the same as conventional crops, despite claims that GM crops would reduce the need for pesticides.Pesticides are one factor cited by scientists for the plunging populations of some insects. Insects play vital roles in the ecosystems that sustain humanity, in particular by pollinating three-quarters of crops.The study, published in the journal Science, used US government data on pesticide use and the level of the toxicity of each chemical to give a measure of the “total applied toxicity”. This enabled changes over time to be assessed. Looking solely at the amount of pesticide applied gives a false picture, the scientists said, because some are several orders of magnitude more toxic than others. They found that the replacement of organophosphorus and carbamate insecticides reduced the total toxicity to mammals and birds by a factor of nine. “In sharp contrast, the total applied toxicity to invertebrates has markedly increased since approximately 2005,” they said, despite the amount of insecticide applied decreasing by 40%.This was because pyrethroid and neonicotinoid replacements are more toxic to pollinators and aquatic invertebrates. The harm to bees has led the EU to ban some neonicotinoids from outdoor use.The scientists said the impact on insects could have knock-on effects on other animals such as birds that rely on them for food, as indicated in a study in the Netherlands in 2014. They also said the lack of public pesticide data in many places “potentially masks a crucial driver of the global biodiversity decline”.

64% of World’s Farmland at Risk From Pesticide Pollution, Study Finds -- About one third of the world's agricultural land is at high risk from pesticide pollution, a new study has found. The research, published in Nature Geoscience Monday, looked at the use and spread of 92 active pesticide ingredients in 168 countries. They considered an area at risk if the concentration of a chemical exceeded the limit at which it would have no effect, and at high risk if that concentration exceeded the limit by a factor of 1,000. "Our study has revealed 64 percent of the world's arable land is at risk of pesticide pollution," University of Sydney Research Associate and the study's lead author, Dr Fiona Tang said in a University of Sydney press release. "This is important because the wider scientific literature has found that pesticide pollution can have adverse impacts on human health and the environment."  Further, a total of 31 percent of land was at high risk, the study authors wrote.   The researchers looked at 59 herbicides, 21 insecticides and 19 fungicides and based their calculations on application rate data from the U.S. Geological Survey and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. They then used a model to estimate how much of the pesticides would remain in the soil, atmosphere, groundwater and surface water. Pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are widely used to boost productivity in farming, the press release noted. However, they have unintended consequences for human and environmental health. They can enter bodies of water through runoff or by entering the groundwater, contaminating drinking water. Pesticides likechlorpyrifos have been shown to harm the cognitive development of children, while others have been linked to cancer. They also pose a threat to wildlife such as bees and birds.  "It is significant because the potential pollution is widespread and some regions at risk also bear highbiodiversity and suffer from water scarcity," she said in an AFP article published by Specifically, 34 percent of the high risk areas were in regions with high biodiversity while five percent were in water-scarce areas, the study found. Nineteen percent of the high risk areas were in low or middle income countries.

Worst drought in 40 years leads to rising hunger and severe food shortages in Angola -Severe food shortage and hunger are on the rise in Angola as the country is gripped by its worst drought in nearly four decades, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) warned on March 26, 2021.  The rainy season in Angola, which typically runs from November to April, is being hampered by an abnormal dry spell, affecting crops and livestock, as well as millions of people living in the southwestern provinces.Since December 2020, the country has been experiencing episodes of drought, with below-average rainfall in the provinces of Benguela, Cuanza Sul, Huambo, Huila, and Namibe.According to WFP, the situation will remain grim in the coming months due to the absence of above-average rainfall.As water supply decreases, severely affecting crops and livestock, with losses estimated up to 40 percent, WFP warned of rising food insecurity and malnutrition rates in the worst-hit areas. "The situation is also reportedly giving rise to migratory movements from the most affected areas with families moving towards other provinces and across the border to Namibia," the organization wrote."WFP is now coordinating food security and nutrition assessments in the south of the country with an Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis expected by the end of May."

Study: Drought Puts More Hoosiers With Private Wells At Risk From Arsenic - Indiana Public Media -- A map showing people exposed to high arsenic levels in private wells during droughts. 10 μg per liter is the maximum amount of arsenic allowed in public water supplies, includes Ohio. (Courtesy of the journal Environmental Science & Technology) Hoosiers are already at greater risk for unsafe levels of arsenic in private drinking water wells than people in some other states — and a new study shows drought can make the problem worse. Arsenic naturally occurs in the ground, but long-term exposure to the metal in drinking water can increase your risk for all kinds of health problems — including bladder, lung, prostate, and skin cancers. Melissa Lombard is a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and a co-author of the study. She said drought might cause water to move differently in an aquifer and change its chemistry, resulting in more arsenic than usual. “If you run out of water, that's a problem. But we're only really starting to think about how that might impact — a drought might impact the water quality and human health," Lombard said. The Purdue Climate Change Research Center said the Midwest is expected to experience more periods of drought in the future. Lombard said Indiana, in particular, tends to have high levels of arsenic in the groundwater and more people on private wells. “So those two in combination result in Indiana being at a higher risk than a lot of other states," she said. The Indiana Department of Health recommends testing your private well at least once a year. Find out how to test your well and what to do if you find high levels of arsenic.

America's Megadrought and its Potential Impact on American Consumers - While we are distracted with the fear porn associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, a situation of great concern to the producers of our food is unfolding with very little meaningful recognition by the mainstream media, particularly given its seriousness. Let's look at the actual data from the United States Drought Monitor for the western United States: Here is a table showing the data behind the map: In mid-March 2021, 20.61 percent of the western United States was considered to be in an exceptional drought situation, down from 22.16 percent at the end of December 2020 but up from 0 percent in March 2020.  In total, 39.49 percent of the western United States is considered to be in an extreme or exceptional drought, down from 46.63 percent just prior to Christmas 2020 but, again up substantially from 0 percent in March 2020. Here is the latest drought summary for the western United States: "A slight expansion of severe drought (D2) was made to northeast Montana, based on 90-day SPI (standardized precipitation index) and soil moisture below the 10th percentile. These low soil moisture conditions are related to the lack of snowfall this winter. In contrast to the northern high Plains, snow water content is running close to average for late March and led to the elimination of abnormal dryness (D0) across south-central Montana. Since parts of western Arizona and southeast California have received little to no precipitation during the past two month, D3 (extreme) and D4 (exceptional) drought were slightly increased. This expansion of D3-D4 was supported by 9-month SPI values which covers the failed 2020 monsoon and this past winter. An expansion of D2 (severe) and extreme (D3) drought across parts of southern California was based on large water year to date precipitation deficits and 6-month SPI values. […] widespread D4 persists across southeast New Mexico where dust storms have been quite frequent this month and soil moisture remains in the lowest one percentile." Let's look at the drought situation for the entire continental United States.  Here is a map showing the drought situation for March 24, 2020: Here is what the drought situation looked like by the beginning of August 2020:  Here is what the drought situation looked like at the end of December 2020: Lastly, here is what the drought situation looks like now:  Given that, historically speaking, drought conditions in the continental United States tend to be very low during the early part of the year, the fact that an extreme drought is currently plaguing the west is of great concern for food producers of all types and for consumers and, given the current stresses in the world's supply chains, we may well find that significant food price inflation will result in even greater financial strain on American farmers and for American and Canadian consumers.

Biden mulls giving farmers billions to fight climate change. Even farmers are unsure about the plan. - The Biden administration's ambitious plan to create a multibillion-dollar bank to help pay farmers to capture carbon from the atmosphere is running into surprising skepticism, challenging Agriculture Department officials to persuade the industry to get behind the massive climate proposal.The plan is to roll out some type of action this year, the senior official said, who was granted anonymity in order to discuss the department's thinking.Arguably one of the federal government’s most ambitious attempts to combat climate change, the concept aims to use market forces to produce sharp reductions in the human-made emissions that are the primary cause of global warming.But while the idea is popular with some sectors of the environmental movement that see it as a sign of the seriousness of Biden’s commitment to tackle global warming, it’s facing doubts from both the right and left flanks of the agriculture lobby. In addition, various groups representing industries as wide-ranging as food conglomerates and venture capital-backed carbon market operators have hit up offices on Capitol Hill andthose in Biden administration to share ideas and raise concerns about how potentially billions in investment would be spent.The American Farm Bureau Federation, the most influential farm group in Washington, indicated recently that it has some hesitations about the carbon bank idea, even though it could put millions of dollars into the coffers of its members.The questions reflect the difficult politics of climate change, questions about the science of carbon sequestration, and fears that big food and agriculture companies will use the scheme as an inexpensive way to avoid reducing their own carbon footprint. Farmers and ranchers worry they won't end up benefiting much from the potential gold rush, as corporations and financial middlemen race to get into the markets.Though specifics of the plan haven't yet emerged, the concept is a novel one: With scores of major corporations having made grand promises about achieving carbon-neutrality, USDA would help offer a chance to buy credits to offset their pollution by supporting farmers who plant an extra batch of crops such as cereal rye and clover or make other on-farm changes to help absorb carbon dioxide into the soil. Such agriculture techniques would bring about a net reduction in greenhouse gases.

New problems arise for crop storage as planet gets warmer - About 25% of the nation’s potato chips get their start in Michigan, where reliably cool air during September harvest and late spring has been ideal for crop storage. That’s a big reason why the state produces more chipping potatoes than any other. But with temperatures edging higher, Sackett had to buy several small refrigeration units for his sprawling warehouses. Last year, he paid $125,000 for a bigger one. It’s expensive to operate, but beats having his potatoes rot. “Our good, fresh, cool air is getting less all the time, it seems like,” The situation here illustrates a little-noticed hazard that climate change is posing for agriculture in much of the world. Once harvested, crops not immediately consumed or processed are stored — sometimes for months. The warming climate is making that job harder and costlier. The annual period with outdoor air cool enough to store potatoes in Michigan’s primary production area likely will shrink by up to 17 days by mid-century and up to a month by the late 2100s, according to an analysis by Julie Winkler, a Michigan State University geography and climate scientist. The window for unrefrigerated storage is also narrowing for apples in the Northwest and Northeast, peanuts in the Southeast, lettuce in the Southwest and tomatoes in the Ohio valley, according to follow-up research published last year by plant physiology scientist Courtney Leisner at Auburn University. Techmark Inc., an agricultural engineering company based in Lansing, Michigan, designed the Sackett farm’s equipment. Co-owner Todd Forbush, whose customers also include growers of sugar beets, onions and carrots, said storage of those crops increasingly will need refrigeration. Growers will face tough choices about the economics of their operations. Producers who install equipment to regulate temperature and humidity will see power costs rising as the outside air gets hotter. “Whose pocket is it going to come out of? Probably the consumer,” Leisner said, adding that the potential effects of global warming on storage had been “largely ignored.” “There’s a big disconnect in our minds about the chain of events between the field and the grocery store and onto our plate,” she said. “Just a few degrees can make all the difference in whether it’s economical to store the fruits and vegetables that we expect to have on our dinner table 365 days a year.”

Researchers dumped tons of coffee waste into a forest. This is what it looks like now. One of the biggest problems with coffee production is that it generates an incredible amount of waste. Once coffee beans are separated from cherries, about 45% of the entire biomass is discarded. So for every pound of roasted coffee we enjoy, an equivalent amount of coffee pulp is discarded into massive landfills across the globe. That means that approximately 10 million tons of coffee pulp is discarded into the environment every year. When disposed of improperly, the waste can cause serious damage soil and water sources. However, a new study published in the British Ecological Society journal Ecological Solutions and Evidence has found that coffee pulp isn't just a nuisance to be discarded. It can have an incredibly positive impact on regrowing deforested areas of the planet. In 2018, researchers from ETH-Zurich and the University of Hawaii spread 30 dump trucks worth of coffee pulp over a roughly 100' x 130' area of degraded land in Costa Rica. The experiment took place on a former coffee farm that underwent rapid deforestation in the 1950s. The coffee pulp was spread three-feet thick over the entire area. Another plot of land near the coffee pulp dump was left alone to act as a control for the experiment. "The results were dramatic." Dr. Rebecca Cole, lead author of the study, said. "The area treated with a thick layer of coffee pulp turned into a small forest in only two years while the control plot remained dominated by non-native pasture grasses." In just two years, the area treated with coffee pulp had an 80% canopy cover, compared to just 20% of the control area. So, the coffee-pulp-treated area grew four times more rapidly. Like a jolt of caffeine, it reinvigorated biological activity in the area.

Global Rainforest Destruction Surged in 2020, Study Finds  - A new study published Wednesday found that the destruction of primary forest increased by 12% in 2020, impacting ecosystems that store vast amounts of carbon and shelter abundant biodiversity. Brazil saw the worst losses, three times higher than the next highest country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the report from Global Forest Watch (GFW) citing satellite data. The driving factor of deforestation has been a combination of a demand for commodities, increased agriculture, and climate change. 2020 was meant to be a "landmark year" in the fight against deforestation in which companies, countries and international organizations had pledged to halve or completely stop forest loss, said the report. The report, which included data from the University of Maryland, study cited in the report registered the destruction of 10.4 million acres (4.2 million hectares) of primary forest.The loss of tree cover ー which refers to plantations as well as natural forest ー was a total of 30 million acres. Australia saw a ninefold increase in tree cover loss from late 2019 to early 2020 compared to 2018 primarily driven by extreme weather. Heat and drought also stoked huge fires in Siberia and deep into the Amazon, researchers said. The findings did, however, show signs of hope, particularly in southeast Asia. Indonesia and Malaysia saw downward trends for deforestation after implementing regulations such as a temporary palm oil license ban — although that is set to expire in 2021. These losses constitute a "climate emergency. They're a biodiversity crisis, a humanitarian disaster, and a loss of economic opportunity," said Frances Seymour of the World Resources Institute, which is behind the The destruction of tropical forests released vast amounts of CO2 in 2020, a total of 2.6 million tons. That equals the annual amount of emissions from India's 570 million cars, researchers said.The study suggested that COVID-19 restrictions may have had an effect when it came to illegal harvesting because forests were less protected or the return of large numbers of people to rural areas.

 New Report Finds Indonesian Forestry Company Cleared Endangered Orangutan Habitat -- An Indonesian forestry company with possible links to pulpwood and palm oil powerhouse Royal Golden Eagle has cleared forests the size of 500,000 basketball courts since 2016, some of them home to critically endangered orangutans, according to a new report. Nusantara Fiber controls 242,000 hectares (598,000 acres) of industrial tree plantations via six subsidiary companies in the Bornean provinces of West, Central and East Kalimantan. Industrial trees include acacia and eucalyptus, which are used in the production of paper and textile fibers; timber trees; and trees grown for biomass energy generation. The Nusantara Fiber group obtained most of its permits from 2009-2011 and started clearing forest areas to develop its plantations in 2016, according to a spatial analysis by the research consultancy Aidenvironment. The analysis used satellite imagery, forest cover maps from Indonesia's Ministry of Environment and Forestry, and Global Forest Watch maps of tree cover loss. The analysis shows that from 2016 to 2020, the group cleared 26,000 hectares (64,200 acres) of forests, making it the top deforester among all company groups with industrial tree concessions in Indonesia during this period. Most recently, the group cleared 6,500 hectares (16,000 acres) of forests in 2020. It contends these areas were designated as degraded land, and that its clearing activity was approved by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, which Aidenvironment acknowledged in its report. But the forests that were lost were still valuable, according to the NGO. It cited a concession managed by PT Industrial Forest Plantation (IFP), one of Nusantara Fiber's six subsidiaries, in Kapuas district, Central Kalimantan province. Based on a 2016 assessment of orangutan habitat in Indonesia, the forests inside IFP's concession overlapped almost fully with a known habitat of the southwestern subspecies of the Bornean orangutan, Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii, a critically endangered animal. A 2014 assessment commissioned by IFP had also identified the presence of orangutans inside the concession boundaries, as well as other protected fauna and flora, including 29 bird species, 22 mammal species, six types of reptiles, and 15 tree and plant species. Despite these assessments, IFP went on to deforest 10,700 hectares (26,400 acres) between 2016 and the end of October 2020. Most of the deforestation took place in 2019 and 2020, with 3,200 hectares (7,900 acres) and 5,800 hectares (14,300 acres) of forests cleared respectively. "Bornean orangutans are Critically Endangered, so any disturbance of their habitat is massively concerning,"   As of now, there are approximately 50,000 hectares (124,000 acres) of forests remaining in Nusantara Fiber's concessions. They are at risk of disappearing too, as the concession holders are licensed to clear them.

The Amazon Rainforest Now Emits More Greenhouse Gases Than It Absorbs - The Amazon rainforest may now emit more greenhouse gases than the famously lush ecosystem absorbs, according to new research.Long considered to be a bulwark against climate change because of its capacity to absorb carbon dioxide, a new study suggests rising temperatures, increasing drought and rampant deforestation have likely overwhelmed the Amazon’s ability to absorb more greenhouse gases than it emits, reports Craig Welch for National Geographic.The sobering findings appear in a new study published earlier this month in the journal Frontiers in Forests and Global Change that calculates, for the first time, the net emissions of greenhouse gases from both human and natural sources in the Amazon Basin, reports Liz Kimbrough for Mongabay.A key distinction in appreciating the study’s findings is that they do not just concern carbon dioxide, according to Mongabay. Though carbon dioxide often gets top billing in discussions around climate change, there are many other significant greenhouse gases, including methane, nitrous oxide, aerosols and sooty black carbon.So, while the Amazon still absorbs and stores a prodigious amount of carbon, its net greenhouse gas emissions have tipped from negative to positive—not just because its capacity to absorb carbon dioxide has been damaged by human activity, but also because the transforming landscape has increased emissions of these other greenhouse gases. “If you’re only looking at the carbon picture, you’re missing a big part of the story,” Kristofer Covey, an environmental scientist at Skidmore College and the study’s lead author, tells the New Republic’s Melody Schreiber. “We need to start understanding the full complexity of this ecosystem. We’re down there tinkering at a massive scale, and we don’t really understand the full implications of what we’re doing.”For example, the dried-out wetlands and compacted soils that result from extensive logging often increase nitrous oxide emissions, and fires used to clear land for livestock and agriculture release particles of soot called black carbon that absorb sunlight and cause localized warming, according toNational Geographic. “Cutting the forest is interfering with its carbon uptake; that’s a problem,” Covey tells National Geographic. “When you start to look at these other factors alongside CO2, it gets really hard to see how the net effect isn’t that the Amazon as a whole is really warming global climate.”

Invasive Species Cost Billions of Dollars in Damages Annually, Researchers Find -Exotic, invasive species, introduced by humans, wreak ecological and economic havoc in new habitats. In astudy published in Nature, researchers found the costliest among these species are Aedes mosquitoes, rats, cats, termites and fire ants, Science News reported."For decades, researchers have been evaluating the significant impacts of invasive species, but the problem isn't well known by the public and policy makers," Boris Leroy, a biogeographer at the French National Museum of Natural History in Paris, told Science News. "By estimating the global cost, we hoped to raise awareness of the issue and identify the most costly species."Researchers found that over the past four decades (1970 to 2017), invasive species have cost nearly $1.3 trillion in damages, the French National Centre for Scientific Research wrote in a statement.The research analyzed over 1,300 estimates of damages by invasive plants and animals, The Guardian reported. And while these damages yielded an annual average of $26.8 billion, the annual bill actually tripled every decade. "In 2017 alone, it hit $162.7 billion, or 20 times the combined budgets of the WHO and the UN Secretariat that year," the French National Centre for Scientific Research wrote.The study, which was the most comprehensive of its kind, was intentionally conservative, relying on only observed data, The Guardian reported. "But there are so many unquantifiables from a monetary perspective, like ecosystem damage and lost productivity, so it's still the tip of the iceberg," profesor Corey Bradshaw, of Flinders University in Australia, who was part of the study, told The Guardian, adding that the real costs could be 10 times higher.The international research team said growth in global trade is to blame for the uptick in economic cost. Deforestation and agricultural expansion have also helped species move easily from habitat to habitat, Science News reported.Coming with a heavy annual cost of about $149 billion, Aedes mosquitoes, including the Asian tiger mosquito and the yellow fever mosquito, rank as the costliest invasive species. First arriving in the U.S. around the 1980s, in used tires shipped from Asia, the Asian tiger mosquito quickly spread across 40 states and has invaded parts of Europe, South America, Africa and Australia. The yellow fever mosquito, originally from sub-Saharan Africa, has spread around the world in similar ways. Together they transmit diseases like Zika, chikungunya, yellow fever and dengue, Science News reported.

Groundwater Depletion in Pakistan -Pakistan has about 1.2 million tube wells extracting 50 million acre feet of water every year for farm irrigation. NASA satellite maps show that Pakistan is among the places worst affected by rapid depletion of groundwater.  A recent World Bank report titled "Groundwater in Pakistan’s Indus Basin : Present and Future Prospects" lays out the need for better groundwater management in Pakistan. Here are three key highlights of this reports:

  • 1. Improved groundwater management is crucial for a healthy, wealthy, and green Pakistan. Pakistan’s Indus Basin Irrigation System is the largest artificial groundwater recharge system in the world, but the current water management paradigm doesn’t reflect it.
  • 2. Over-abstraction, waterlogging and contamination threaten the crucial role of groundwater as a life-sustaining resource, which has cascading impacts on drought resilience, public health, and environmental sustainability.
  • 3. For groundwater to remain a safe and reliable source of drinking water and a lifeline for tail-end farmers, a balance must be achieved between efficiency of the surface water system and sustainability of groundwater resources.

The World Bank report points to the need for better management of groundwater resources. One of the keys to groundwater management is to have an elaborate network of small dams and water reservoirs in strategic locations to recharge underground aquifers.  As the NASA satellite map shows, the Punjab is the worst affected province where the groundwater depletion is the highest. Currently, 1.2 million private tube wells are working in the country, out of which 85% are in Punjab, 6.4% are in Sindh, 3.8% are in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, and 4.8% are 3 in Baluchistan. National Water Policy 2018 was followed by the Punjab Water Policy in 2018 and the Punjab Water Act 2019. The policy emphasizes the need to curb groundwater over-extraction and contamination, and the Act establishes a regime of licenses for abstraction and wastewater disposal, managed by newly created regulatory bodies.

Dozens of Canadian Indigenous communities under boil-water advisories one year into pandemic --More than one year after the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus pandemic, dozens of Indigenous communities across the country continue to lack drinking water, making it impossible for residents to follow basic hygiene measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and combat other infectious diseases.In late February, the Auditor General of Canada, Karen Hogan, presented a report documenting the total failure of successive Canadian governments, including Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, to provide for Indigenous communities’ most basic needs. “Access to safe drinking water is a basic human necessity,” Hogan said at a news conference in Ottawa. “I don’t believe anyone would say that this is in any way an acceptable situation in Canada in 2021.”In the 2015 election campaign that propelled them back to power after a decade in opposition, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals solemnly pledged to address the substandard water conditions faced by First Nations communities across the country. Trudeau specifically committed to having all advisories lifted within five years of entering office. This was accompanied by propaganda, parroted by media outlets, about Trudeau’s desire to affect a “reconciliation” with the Native population, which was focused above all at cultivating ties with a privileged indigenous elite with whom Canadian capitalism could do business. The Liberals’ miserable failure to meet their own targets on drinking water only goes to show that the fraudulent “reconciliation” campaign never had anything to offer the vast majority of the Native population, which continues to live in abject poverty.In the years following the Liberal Party’s election victory, over $2 billion was allocated to improving water conditions for the affected First Nations reserves. An estimated $1.79 billion of this had been spent as of November 2020, and at present 101 long-term boil-water advisories have been lifted.However, 58 long-term advisories remain in effect across Canada—some of which have been in force for over two decades. The Zhiibaahaasing First Nation of Silver Water, Ontario was placed under a boil-water advisory in 1991, and Shoal Lake 40, a First Nation situated on the Ontario-Manitoba border, has been burdened with a long-term advisory for 23 years. Neskantaga First Nation in northern Ontario has been without access to clean water for more than 25 years. On the home page of the nation’s website, a tracker is displayed that counts how many days it has been under the boil-water advisory. As of yesterday, April 1, it read 9,555 days. Neskantaga Nation members have twice been evacuated due to the dangers posed by the lack of access to clean water, most recently in October 2020. That month over 250 residents of the remote community were evacuated after an oily sheen was discovered in their water reservoir. Subsequent testing showed high levels of hydrocarbons in the water. The residents were moved from their homes to a hotel in Thunder Bay, more than 400 kilometres away.

Supreme Court sides with Georgia over Florida in long-fought water war - The Supreme Court on Thursday sided with the state of Georgia in its decades-long water dispute with Florida, a devastating blow to the Sunshine State’s attempt to buoy its struggling oyster industry. Florida has long contended that the growing Atlanta area has soaked up needed water from the Flint and Chattahoochee rivers before it can reach the Apalachicola Bay, a once-thriving oyster region in an economically-depressed area of the panhandle. In a unanimous opinion that reflected as much on ecology as the law, the justices said Florida had failed to show that additional flows from Georgia would have saved its oyster industry. Florida has argued Georgia’s water use increased the salinity of the bay — a feature that disrupts the brackish water preferred by oysters and can encourage disease as well as oyster predators. But Justice Amy Coney Barrett said Florida failed to prove Georgia’s water use injured the state, writing that Florida’s own actions contributed to the demise of the industry. “Florida’s own documents and witnesses reveal that Florida allowed unprecedented levels of oyster harvesting in the years before the collapse. In 2011 and 2012, oyster harvests from the Bay were larger than in any other year on record,” she wrote. “That was in part because Florida loosened various harvesting restrictions out of fear—ultimately unrealized—that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill would contaminate its oyster fisheries." “The record also shows that Florida failed to adequately reshell its oyster bars,” she added, a practice needed to help create habitat for young oysters. The decision leaves little hope for Florida to quickly reestablish an industry that dates back to the mid-1800s. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted unanimously in December to shut down oyster harvesting through 2025. Florida and Georgia first began fighting over water levels in 1990, though Thursday’s decision caps a case that has been litigated since 2013.

Brookfield Renewable Partners subsidiary sues state over plan that could remove dams - The owner of the four dams on the Kennebec River subject to removal as part of a revised plan is suing the Maine Department of Marine Resources and its commissioner, Patrick Keliher. A lawsuit filed by a subsidiary of Toronto-based Brookfield Renewable Partners calls the rulemaking process of the Kennebec River Management Diadromous Resources Amendment “unlawful,” and seeks to have the amendment process stopped. The filing claims that the Marine Resources agency is not consulting with its sister agencies regarding the provisions of the management plan, nor is it following the plan as it was conceived in 1993. “The (M)DMR does not have statutory authority to amend the Kennebec River Management Plan,” reads the complaint, which was filed in the Maine Superior Court in Augusta and requests preliminary injunction. “The (M)DMR’s efforts unilaterally to change Maine’s policy with respect to hydropower on the Kennebec River should be declared illegal.” MDMR declined comment Wednesday, as did the Office of the Maine Attorney General. The amendment to the plan includes the potential removal of four dams along the Kennebec River: the Shawmut in Fairfield, Weston in Skowhegan, and Lockwood and Hydro Kennebec Dams in Waterville. All of the dams are owned by Brookfield. The dams account for more than 250 million kilowatt-hours of renewable energy annually. The complaint references the state’s 1993 Kennebec River Resource Management Plan.

National Grid, Eversource Power Outages: Wind Damage Reported Across Massachusetts – NBC Boston - Powerful winds topping 50 mph knocked out power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses Monday across parts of New England. The wind gusted to 72 mph in West Bethel, 57 mph in York, 55 mph in Rumford and 53 mph in Portland, Maine, and 54 mph in Nashua, 53 mph in Concord and 52 mph in Manchester, New Hampshire, according to the National Weather Service. Atop New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, a gust of 123 mph was recorded. On Monday afternoon, more than 89,000 homes and businesses were without power in New England, including more than 35,000 apiece in both Maine and New Hampshire, officials said. The other four states all had more than 1,900 outages, including more than 6,600 in Massachusetts and more than 2,500 in Vermont and Connecticut. Damage was reported across Massachusetts and other parts of New England on as strong winds blasted the area. Trees have been reported down in Amesbury, Mashpee, Tewksbury, Worcester and Natick, among other towns. Trees and power lines are down on a house on Janebar Circle in Framingham. A tree also took down power lines in Auburn and Holliston. Gusts to 60 mph will be possible from the Berkshires to the Worcester Hills and for the rest of New England 40 to 60 mph gusts will be possible on Monday. The powerful winds were preventing utility workers from using bucket trucks to restore power, said Kerri Theriault, Central Maine Power’s director of electric operations.

Schroeder wildfire threatens Rapid City fire suppression, South Dakota - (videos) Multiple National Guard helicopters were in full aerial suppression mode on March 29, 2021, as the Schroeder Fire burned multiple homes and threatened thousands more west of Rapid City, South Dakota.Approximately 500 homes were ordered to evacuate the area as high winds helped spread the blaze.The area was under a High Wind Warning with gusts over 110 km/h (70 mph) reported in nearby Rapid City.Crews will be working around the clock to attempt to contain the fire as high winds continue to push it south overnight.Multiple highways as well as Mount Rushmore National Memorial were closed due to the fire.Heavy air tankers from Colorado are expected to join fire suppression efforts in the Black Hills tomorrow as multiple fires broke out across the area during the Red Flag Warning. As of March 29, the fire was last estimated at around 770 ha (1 900 acres) with 0% containment.

South Dakota Wildfires Close Mount Rushmore and Force Evacuations  --Three wildfires raging in South Dakota have shuttered Mount Rushmore and forced hundreds to flee their homes. The largest blaze is the Schroeder Fire, first reported at 9:22 a.m. Monday one mile west of Rapid City, according to a Facebook update. It has since spread to 1,900 acres and forced up to 500 people to flee their homes, the Rapid City Journal reported Monday evening. Authorities attributed the fire to human causes, but its spread to environmental factors."We are at record-dry conditions along with high winds playing a major factor in this fight," South Dakota Wildland Fire Division Director Jay Esperance said in the Facebook update. As of the most recent update, there were 250 firefighters battling the flames. The fire has destroyed at least one home and two pole barns, the Pennington County Sheriff's Office confirmed on Facebook. No injuries have been reported, The Associated Press said. Meanwhile, Mount Rushmore National Memorial was forced to close because of two other fires, the Keystone Fire and 244 Fire, CNN reported. The 244 fire is located 1.5 miles southwest of Keystone. It spread to around 75 acres as of Monday afternoon, according to the interagency website Great Plains Fire Information. The Keystone Fire has successfully been reduced from 30 to 15 acres as of 7 p.m. Monday, the website said. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said that the fires were not directly threatening Mount Rushmore, The New York Times reported. However, strong winds made the situation unstable. "I do want to remind everybody that this is an incredibly fluid situation," CNN quoted Noem at a press conference. "That these winds are a major factor and that as they shift and change and we get those gusts, that's when the can jump and we're going to have to stay pretty mobile."

Severe heat wave hits Delhi with highest March temperatures since 1945 - The Safdarjung Observatory in New Delhi, India registered a maximum temperature of 40.1 °C (104.1 °F) on Monday, March 29, 2021, making it the city's hottest March day since 1945. This is 8 °C (14.4 °F) higher than normal, said Kuldeep Srivastava, the head of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) regional forecasting center."This is the hottest day since March 31, 1945, when the capital recorded a maximum of 40.5 °C (104.9 °F).On the same day, Najafgarh recorded 41.8 °C (107.2 °F), Narela recorded 41.7 °C (107 °F), Pitampura 41.6 °C (106.8 °F), and Pusa 41.5 °C (106.7 °F), according to data provided by IMD.Delhi's minimum temperature on Monday was 20.6 °C (69 F), 3 °C (5.4 °F) higher than average.According to Shrivastava, a heatwave is declared in the plains when the maximum temperature is more than 40 °C (104 °F) and at least 4.5 °C (8.1 °F) above normal. A 'severe heatwave' is declared when the departures surpass 6.5 °C (11.7 °F) above normal.Heat wave conditions are very likely in some pockets with severe heat wave conditions in isolated pockets over West Rajasthan on March 30. Heat wave conditions in isolated pockets are expected over East Rajasthan, Saurashtra & Kutch, Madhya Pradesh, and Vidarbha on March 30, IMD warned. Dust raising Strong Surface Winds, with speeds reaching 30 to 40 km/h (18 to 25 mph), are very likely over Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, and Uttar Pradesh on March 30 and April 1.

Up to 3 m (10 feet) of fresh snow hits Valcea, Romania (video) Up to 3 m (10 feet) of snow fell in a mountain resort in Valcea, Romania, in 7 days to March 28, 2021. This county usually sees the heaviest snow and precipitation around May. Heavy snow blanketed the mountain resort Varful Lui Roman in Valcea County. The owner captured images and footage as the thick snow left him surprised.According to local media, it snowed daily for a week on Varful Roman, which stands at 1 700 m (5 577 feet) altitude). The owner estimated that it might take up to six months before the mountain snow melts."You can't see the roof [and] the fence. We jump over it. How can we open another gate? We jump over it. The door is no longer visible," a resident said as snow engulfed his home.Heavy precipitation, in general, is usually the heaviest at around May in the area.

  Destructive floods after near-record rains hit Nashville, claiming lives of 4 people, Tennessee - (videos) Four people have been killed and 130 rescued after near-record levels of rainfall hit Nashville, Tennessee on March 27 and 28, 2021, causing significant flooding across the region. John Cooper, Mayor of Nashville declared a local state of emergency. The last time such destructive flooding hit Nashville was in May 2010, causing the death of 26 people and damaging or destroying almost 11 000 properties. ​Repeated rounds of very heavy rainfall caused widespread flooding issues in many areas across Middle Tennessee from Saturday morning, March 27, through Sunday morning, March 28. Through Sunday morning, Franklin recorded 219.7 mm (8.65 inches) of rain, Clarkrange 213.6 mm (8.41 inches), Brentwood 207.2 mm (8.16 inches), Elmwood 198.1 mm (7.80 inches), Fairview 198.8 mm (7.83 inches), Centerville 197.1 mm (7.76 inches), Christiana 184.9 mm (7.28 inches), Hermitage 181.8 mm (7.16 inches), and Lebanon 179 mm (7.05 inches). The final 48-hour rainfall total at Nashville International Airport is 178 mm (7.01 inches), the NWS office in Nashville said. This is the second-highest two-day rainfall ever recorded there. In 24 hours, the same weather station registered 146 mm (5.75 inches) -- the 4th highest 1 day total ever in Nashville. While 178 mm (7.01 inches) of rainfall doesn't come close to 349.2 mm (13.57 inches) received on May 1 and 2, 2010, it's still significant, Nashville Metro Water Services (MWS) said.Between 22:00 LT on Saturday, March 27th and 07:00 LT on Sunday, March 28th the Nashville Office on Emergency Management (OEM) Dispatch responded to 251 calls for service. The calls included 126 flooding calls, 29 road barricade requests, and 20 boat rescue calls. Nashville Public Works said they had 8 crews working through the night responding to multiple high-water barricade requests and debris removal calls. Nashville Fire Department (NFD) Personnel and NFD Special Operation Swift Water Rescue Teams rescued at least 130 people from automobiles, apartments, and houses. Flood warnings remained in place for parts of Davidson County early Sunday morning, Nashville OEM said, urging residents not to drive through ponding water or around barricades on roads or emergency vehicles blocking roads or other areas.

Death toll rises to 7 after devastating floods in Nashville - Parts of the South have endured multiple severe weather outbreaks in March and have just not been able to catch a break. On Saturday, yet another significant day of severe weather unfolded across the region. In addition to damaging wind gusts, hail and tornadoes across the South, "extremely dangerous and life-threatening" flooding turned deadly in Nashville.Flooding quickly worsened late Saturday as relentless downpours continued across parts of the South. One of the hardest-hit areas from these downpours was Tennessee. At one point Saturday night, flash flood warnings spanned more than half of the state. Nashville quickly became one of the hardest-hit areas on Saturday night as torrential rain pounded the region.  As storms continued to deluge the Music City into Sunday, a life-threatening flash flooding situation developed very quickly across the Nashville metro. The National Weather Service (NWS) issued a rare flash flood emergency for Metro Nashville as well as Brentwood, Franklin and Mount Juliet, Tennessee, overnight, warning of "an extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation." As of midday on Sunday, local news reported that at least four people were killed in the flooding in the Nashville area. According to The Tennessean, 130 people in Nashville were rescued by crews. On Monday, three additional fatalities were confirmed, one in the Nashville area and one each in the counties of Hawkins and Cheatham.On Sunday evening, Nashville Mayor John Cooper signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency in the city due to the flooding. Davidson County is now requesting assistance from both state and federal levels.An apartment building in the southeastern part of Nashville partially collapsed as floodwaters inundated the area. At least five people were trapped in the area as fire rescue units struggled against "swift water" to reach them, according to local media.There were also reports across the same part of the city of people "clinging to trees," desperate to get to higher ground to avoid floodwaters, according to the NWS.Reports of flooded roadways and homes as well as water rescues quickly poured in across the Nashville area. Parts of Interstate 24 were completely underwater overnight, leading to closures and significant backups on open portions of the roadway.Throughout Williamson County there were more than 55 road closures due to the flooding, according to the county's Emergency Management Agency.Crews from the Nashville Fire Department and Nashville Emergency Operations Center reported that they were responding "all over the county to those impacted by severe weather" on Saturday night. On Sunday morning, they announced that there were 251 total incidents overnight, with 71 patients needing to be transported.Police in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, even deployed an armored rescue vehicle to reach people trapped in flooded cars.The heaviest downpours in the state targeted a large swath from just south of Jackson, Tennessee, northeastward to Nashville. On Saturday, Nashville recorded an astounding 5.75 inches of rainfall. This rainfall amount made March 27 the wettest March day on record for the city, as well as the fourth-wettest day of all time, according to the NWS.

 March temperature records tumble across Europe ahead of new widespread cold blast -Temperatures in much of northwest Europe have hit record levels as unusually warm weather gripped the region on Tuesday, March 30, 2021, starting with the UK, which registered its warmest March day in 53 years when the mercury soared above 24 °C (75.2 °F). The heat dome is forecast to dissipate in the coming days, while a new area of high pressure is expected over Iceland and northern Britain. Forecast models call for significant cool-off in the days ahead, centered first in SE Europe, followed by another significant and widespread cold wave. On Tuesday, the UK sweltered through its warmest March day in 53 years as temperatures peaked at 25 °C (76.1 °F) at Kew Gardens, west London. It was slightly below the country's hottest March temperature of 25.6 °C (78.1 °F) set in 1968 at Cambridgeshire. According to Met Office forecaster, Alex Burkill, Tuesday's temperature was 'exceptionally high for the time of year.' Steve Ramsdale, a chief meteorologist at the Met Office, added, "Highs will fall to the mid-teens before falling further by Friday (April 2), especially along the east coast." Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands just 16 km (10 miles) off northern France, hit 22.9 °C (73.2 °F) on Tuesday afternoon, smashing the highest March temperature in the area in more than 125 years of record. In Switzerland, monthly records tumble at individual weather stations, including several at high elevations of the Alps. Grimsel recorded 10.9 °C (51.6 °F), exceeding the record of 10.4 °C (50.7 °F) set on March 11, 1997. Chasseral, a mountain peak in northwestern Switzerland, rose to 14 °C (57.2 °F), beating the previous record of 13 °C (55.4 °F) set in March 1990. Belgium had 13 stations break local monthly records on the same day, while Austria had 29 stations. Records also fell in Spain and Oman. On Wednesday, March 31, Germany and Netherlands set all-time records for March, with highs of 27.2 °C (81 °F) and 26.1 °C (79 °F), respectively. A new monthly record was set in Paris as the city registered 26 °C (78.8 °F), beating the previous record set on March 25, 1955.Meanwhile, France's average maximum temperature on Wednesday was the highest for the month of March as the mercury hit 29.8 °C (85.6 °F), while Luxembourg had its first 25 °C (77 °F) reading for March.The heat over Europe is expected to dissipate in the coming days, while a new area of high pressure is forecast over Iceland and northern Britain.

 A tropical storm in 2018 produced the lowest temperature ever recorded on Earth - A tropical storm just south of the equator in the southwestern Pacific Ocean on December 29, 2018, produced an unprecedented temperature of -111.2 °C (161.96 K / -168.1 °F), the lowest recorded on Earth, according to a recent scientific research paper. The temperature was recorded atop the thunderstorm clouds, with an altitude of more than 20.5 km (12.8 miles) above sea level.In a new paper published in AGU's Geophysical Research Letters, researchers examined data gathered during a tropical storm in the southwestern Pacific in 2018. The storm, which was a result of a deep convection event, pushed so high in the atmosphere that it smashed the record for the lowest temperature on Earth. Convection is a process by which a warm fluid travels upward, while cooler fluid falls beneath it. Huge storms are usually the result of warm surface air pushing high into the atmosphere, cooling rapidly, and forming thick clouds. This event produces wind and rain, and other systems associated with thunderstorms, such as the presence of cooler air on the surface. During the storm in 2018, conditions were perfect that when the hot air on the surface switched positions with the cooler air in the atmosphere, the warm air is pushed much higher than usual. This is a process known as an overshoot, which results in the cloud tops becoming colder than what would usually be seen in a thunderstorm. Overshooting tops indicate that a storm is particularly severe that it can cause hazardous weather.

Volcanic eruption in Geldingadalir continues, lava flow steady at 5 - 7 m3 per second, Iceland --The volcanic eruption in Geldingadalir, Reykjanes Peninsula, Iceland has now been ongoing for 9 days, with lava flowing steadily at 5 to 7 cubic meters per second, the Icelandic Met Office (IMO) reported on March 29, 2021. A lot of data has been collected since the eruption started, including on-site and remote measurements along with modeling work forecasting the event's possible behavior over the coming days. The lava is basaltic and highly fluid with little explosive activity, IMO said. "It is a very small eruption and the lava flow has been steady at 5 - 7 m3 per second since its onset." Currently, the extent of the lava field is within Geldingadalur but if the eruption keeps ongoing at a similar rate, it is modeled that the lava will flow east towards Merardalur valley. The current magma is rich in MgO (8.5%) which indicates that it is coming from depths of around 17 - 20 km (10.5 - 12.4 miles). There has been constant gas pollution close to the eruption site, spatially determined by local wind conditions. Gases can accumulate to life-threatening levels in certain weather conditions, IMO warns. There have been no indications of significant tectonic movements since the eruption started and there are currently no indications of new openings at other locations along the magma injection path. "This eruption calls for specific and targeted monitoring of the eruption itself and also of the gas's effects on air quality and the downwind environment," IMO said. If the volcano continues to erupt it could eventually end up being categorized as a shield volcano. This type of volcanoes are generally formed over long time periods with lava fields extending from a few to several kilometers around its source.

  Lava flow at Pacaya volcano heads toward inhabited areas, Guatemala -High-level effusive activity continues at Pacaya volcano, Guatemala with columns of abundant ash lasting from minutes to hours, reaching 3 km (9 850 feet) above sea level and traveling 7 km (4.3 miles) in a southerly direction on March 30. 2021. On March 29, the lava flow reached coffee plantations and swallowed up an abandoned house near the village of El Patrocinio. The activity is causing ashfall in the communities to the south of the volcano, such as Finca El Chupadero and Los Pocitos. The effusive activity continues to feed the lava flow on the west flank, with a length of 2 850 m (9 350 feet) as of March 30. INSIVUMEH seismic stations register constant tremors, associated with the rise of magma, as well as continuous degassing in the crater. It is not ruled out that more lava flows are generated in other flanks or the generation of degassing columns with abundant ash, INSIVUMEH reported at 14:07 UTC on March 30. On March 29, lava flow reached the coffee plantations and swallowed up an abandoned house near the village of El Patrocinio, CONRED reported. It continues to advance between 50 and 60 m (160 - 195 feet) per day. The next community is El Patrocinio, located 1.5 km (0.93 miles) from where the lava flow is currently located, CONRED said on March 30.

 17th paroxysmal eruptive episode at Etna forces closure of Catania International Airport, Italy  -- The 17th paroxysmal eruptive episode since February 16 started at Etna volcano, Italy at 23:00 UTC on Wednesday, March 31, 2021. The Aviation Color Code was raised to Red at 19:11 UTC on March 31 and remains at this level as of 09:32 UTC when the last VONA was issued. 7 people who got lost on the mountain on Wednesday were rescued on Thursday morning.The National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, Etnaeus Observatory (INGV-OE), informs that starting around 23:00 UTC on March 31, Strombolian activity at the Southeast Crater has gradually switched to a lava fountain, marking the start of the 17th paroxysm since February 16.At 00:18 UTC on Thursday, April 1, a lava overflow started at the eastern edge of the Southeast Crater expanding in the upper part of the Valle del Bove.The ash cloud rose up to 9 km (29 500 feet) a.s.l. by 07:47 UTC, drifting SSW.The temporal trend of volcanic tremor amplitude highlights a continuous increase in values that have reached very high levels, INGV-OE reported at 01:52 UTC. The center of the sources of volcanic tremor is located at the SE crater at an elevation between 2 500 m and 2 800 m (8 200 - 9 180 feet) above sea level.This is the longest paroxysm in the sequence that started on February 16, 2021.

Beijing announces crackdown on violators of air pollution rules after sandstorms -Beijing will take aim at violators of air pollution rules over the next month after two sandstorms hammered the city this month. The Chinese capital saw its biggest sandstorm in years in the middle of March, followed by another that brought its air quality index (AQI) to the ceiling of 500 over the weekend, Reuters reported. State media said the city will conduct inspections for all construction sites through April, although the storms are believed to have originated in Mongolia. City officials will also crack down on air quality issues such as insufficient disposal of waste and construction dust, according to the Xinhua news service. Xinhua reported that investigations of air pollution violations are up 30 percent this year. The increase comes after the city imposed a series of stricter standards on industrial emissions, dissipating much of the smog that had persisted in the city for years. Although the sandstorm is thought to have started in Mongolia, Li Shuo, policy director for Greenpeace China, told The New York Times earlier this month that it was “the result of land and ecological degradation in the north and west of Beijing.” “Beijing is what an ecological crisis looks like. After two weeks of smog and static air, strong wind carries a sand storm in, sending AQI off the chart,” Li said earlier this month.

Tesla urges court to reinstate hike in emissions penalties (Reuters) - Tesla Inc is pressing a U.S. appeals court to immediately reinstate a 2016 Obama regulation more than doubling penalties for automakers who fail to meet fuel efficiency requirements, according to court filings. The Trump administration on Jan. 14 delayed the start of higher penalties until the 2022 model year. Tesla told the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals the Trump action was “unlawful” and “diminishes the value of performance-based incentives that electric vehicle manufacturers, such as Tesla, accrue under the standards”. Although President Joe Biden supports tougher emissions standards, his administration opposes Tesla’s request for immediate court action, saying the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is scrutinizing the Trump action on Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) penalties and will complete its review in six months. A group representing major automakers also opposes immediate action. Tesla did not respond to a request for comment. NHTSA declined comment. Tesla first asked the appeals court to act on March 4, saying the Trump administration’s “egregious action presents a situation as extraordinary as it is unjustified and inflicts immediate and irreparable injury on Tesla.” In a filing Monday it said that the government’s position that there was no immediate harm to allowing the Biden administration time to review the Trump decision “ignores the ongoing impacts” on the credit-trading market. The Justice Department rejected Tesla claims it faces irreparable harm noting NHTSA has not yet assessed CAFE penalties for 2018 or 2019 model years. Tesla, whose electric cars produce zero emissions, sells credits to other automakers to reduce their burden of complying with the regulations, and argues that the Trump rule change makes those credits less valuable. In 2020, Tesla posted its first full-year profit, helped by record vehicle deliveries and a jump in regulatory credit sales. Tesla generated a revenue of $1.58 billion from sales of regulatory credits last year, a sharp increase from $594 million in 2019. NHTSA said in its interim final rule issued in the final days of the Trump administration that it expected its final rule to cut future burdens on industry by up to $1 billion annually.

 This machine in Texas could suck up companies' carbon emissions — if they pay -To burnish their green credentials, companies have long paid to plant trees or protect forests in the hopes that nature will absorb their greenhouse gas emissions. Shopify, the Canadian company that runs e-commerce sites, wants to take a more hands-on approach — by paying a Texas venture to pull carbon dioxide from the sky and store it underground.Shopify struck a deal this month with Carbon Engineering, which is about to start building a sprawling “direct air capture” facility in West Texas with its partner 1PointFive. Their plant, expected to be the largest of its kind, will use huge fans to draw in air and churn out pure CO2. Shopify has agreed to “buy” 10,000 metric tons of the gas that will be permanently sequestered in deep rock formations.The initiative comes as corporations are redoubling promises to address climate change. Tech firms, airlines, and oil-and-gas giants have all recently pledged to reach “net-zero” emissions by 2050 — a loosely defined strategy which generally means they’re working to cut new emissions and reverse past pollution. Climate scientists say the world must now do both to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by mid-century.As part of those efforts, companies as wide-ranging as Microsoft, Audi, ExxonMobil and Stripe are investing in businesses developing cutting-edge technologies that remove carbon from the atmosphere and lock it away. Selling CO2-removal by the ton offers a way to fund these enormously expensive ventures while allowing companies to claim credit for (eventually) trimming their carbon footprints.“We firmly believe these types of frontier technologies are going to be a necessary part of the climate solution,” said Stacy Kauk, director of Shopify’s sustainability fund. Along with the deal it struck to remove 10,000 tons in Texas, the ecommerce software company is buying 5,000 metric tons of carbon removal from Climeworks. The Swiss firm is expanding its direct air capture plant in Iceland and developing a new one in Norway.

Studies: NPPD could cut emissions at little cost --Nebraska’s largest electric utility could dramatically reduce carbon emissions over the next three decades at little or no cost to ratepayers, according to a pair of recent reports prepared for the utility’s board of directors. The path — and cost — of completely eliminating emissions by midcentury, though, becomes far less certain. The Nebraska Public Power District, which serves most of the state’s population outside the cities of Omaha and Lincoln, last year hired two firms to forecast the potential impact of federal carbon regulations. The results, by Ascend Analytics and Siemens, both conclude that the utility could significantly reduce its exposure to such policies without burdening customers with severe rate hikes. Ascend’s study said that if wholesale power prices continue to fall, the utility likely could cut its carbon emissions by 90% without any added expense. It predicts a dramatically higher price for eliminating the final 10% of emissions, concluding the only economically feasible way to eliminate them would be through offsets. The study’s modeling exercises consistently endorsed closing coal and nuclear plants before 2036, when many of their sales contracts to retail utilities would expire, and investing in wind, solar and some combination of batteries and “flexible” natural gas. The analysis by Siemens is slightly less sunny. It predicts that substantial carbon reductions can be achieved with modest increases in prices for customers until perhaps some time after 2040. Siemens estimates that the utility could, for example, chop its carbon intensity in half by 2030 and by 80% by 2050 while increasing rates to its utility and municipal customers by no more than the rate of inflation. Getting to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050 would be significantly tougher, according to the study, and likely would require doubling customer rates between 2035 and 2050. Siemens’ models also endorsed closing the utility’s coal giant, the 1,365-megawatt Gerald Gentleman Station, before 2036. However, it said that attaining 100% clean energy might require relicensing the Cooper Nuclear Station, a costly proposition. Both studies recommend closing the 225-megawatt coal-fired Sheldon Station early or converting it to operate on natural gas. “For years, we’ve been saying, ‘You should retire your coal-fired generation and replace it with clean energy,’” said John Crabtree, a Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign representative in Nebraska. “Ascend Analytics made the case that NPPD needs to retire much of their coal-fired generation and replace it with clean energy.” And particularly significantly, he added, “Their rationale was that this was the best economic case.”

Small Percentage of Frequent Flyers Are Driving Global Emissions, New Study Shows --Another study finds evidence that the majority of climate-damaging flights are undertaken by a small minority of frequent travelers.The research, published by the UK-based climate charity Possible, is based on a review of the existing literature on global flight frequency before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the aviation industry. It found extensive evidence of flight inequality both between and within countries."This report shows the same pattern of inequality around the world — a small minority of frequent flyers take an unfair share of the flights," Possible's Alethea Warrington told BBC News. "While the poorest communities are already suffering the impacts of a warming climate, the benefits of high-carbon lifestyles are enjoyed only by the few. A lot of people travel. But only the privileged few fly often."Globally, few people fly regularly. Less than 20 percent of people have ever flown, according to the report, and only five to 10 percent of the world's population flies in any year. Further, the wealthiest 10 percent of people are responsible for 76 percent of the energy consumption involved with packaged holidays.Meanwhile, the top 10 countries for aviation emissions account for 60 percent of the world's total, while the top 30 account for 86 percent. The top three countries for total emissions from flying were the U.S., China and the UK, while the top five for per capita emissions from residents came from Singapore, Finland, Iceland, Australia and the UK. At the same time, a gap remains within those top-flying countries between the most frequent flyers and everyone else.

  • U.S.: 12 percent of the population takes 66 percent of the flights
  • UK: around 15 percent of the population takes 70 percent of the flights
  • France: two percent of the population takes 50 percent of the flights
  • Canada: 22 percent of the population takes 73 percent of the flights
  • Netherlands: eight percent of the population takes 42 percent of the flights

To address these inequalities and reduce aviation emissions, Possible is proposing a Frequent Flyer Levy in the UK, which would tax people who take more flights. "Air travel is a uniquely damaging behavior, resulting in more emissions per hour than any other activity, bar starting forest fires. So targeting climate policy at the elite minority responsible for most of the environmental damage from flights could help tackle the climate problem without taking away access to the most important and valued services that air travel provides to society," Leo Murray, Possible director of innovation, told The Guardian.

NASA Study Finds Direct Proof of Greenhouse Effect - In a first-of-its-kind study, NASA has managed to achieve something that has so far eluded scientists: provide direct, global observations that fossil fuel emissions are heating the planet.There is already robust evidence that human activity is causing the climate crisis. This conclusion is supported by 97 percent of climate scientists, and has been established through direct observations of skyrocketing carbon dioxide levels and rising temperatures. However, the connection between greenhouse gas emissions and their climate effects remained theoretical, until now. .The research, published in Geophysical Research Letters on March 25, used satellites to provide evidence of radiative forcing.  Essentially, this is the mechanism behind the greenhouse effect, CBS News explained. When sunlight enters Earth's atmosphere, some of it is reflected back into space, while some of it is absorbed as heat. In order for global temperatures to remain steady, solar energy coming in needs to equal solar energy going out. Heat can be trapped by greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and water vapor. As the concentration of heat-trapping gases increases, the energy balance is thrown off and the Earth becomes warmer. This radiative forcing is the driving mechanism behind climate change."While there are well‐established observational records of greenhouse gas concentrations and surface temperatures, there is not yet a global measure of the radiative forcing, in part because current satellite observations of Earth's radiation only measure the sum total of radiation changes that occur," the study authors noted. To get around this, researchers used radiative kernels (a type of methodology) to separate radiative forcing from the totality of energy balance changes observed by satellites between 2003 and 2018. They found that radiative forcing increased, and that these increases were caused primarily by rising greenhouse gases, and secondarily by decreasing aerosol pollution, which has a cooling effect. In total, radiative forcing increased by 0.5 watts per meter-squared, which is 10 times the energy used by people in a given year, and enough to heat the atmosphere by more than half a degree Fahrenheit in 16 years, CBS News reported. The study builds on a new but growing body of direct evidence for radiative forcing. A 2015 study made the first observations of carbon dioxide's ability to absorb heat radiated from Earth's surface at the surface level. However, the NASA study provides the first comprehensive observations of these changes. That said, the observations are just confirming what most scientists already believed to be true.  "In reality, the observational results came in just as predicted by the theory,"

Most Economists Agree: Benefits of 'Drastic' Climate Action Outweigh Costs of Status Quo -While scientists and campaigners continue calling on world leaders to pursue more ambitious policies to cut planet-heating emissions based on moral arguments and physical dangers, a U.S. think tank released survey results on Tuesday that make a clear economic case for sweeping climate action.The Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University School of Law invited 2,169 Ph.D. economists to take a 15-question online survey "focused on climate change risks, economic damage estimates, and emissions abatement," according to a report on the results. Nearly three-quarters of the 738 economists who participated in the survey say they agree that "immediate and drastic action is necessary.""In sharp contrast, less than 1% believe that climate change is 'not a serious problem,'" the report says, noting a jump in support for bold climate action now compared with a 2015 survey. "Nearly 80% of respondents also self-report an increase in their level of concern about climate change over the past five years, underscoring the high level of overall concern among this group." Of those surveyed, 76% believe the climate crisis will likely or very likely have a negative effect on global economic growth rates. Additionally, 70% think climate change will make income inequality worse within most countries and 89% think it will exacerbate inequality between high-income and low-income countries. "People who spend their careers studying our economy are in widespread agreement that climate change will be expensive, potentially devastatingly so," said Peter Howard, economics director at the institute and co-author of the research, in a statement. "These findings show a clear economic case for urgent climate action."

 Governments — ‘not BlackRock’ — should lead the economy away from fossil fuels, economist says - Governments should be leading the global economy's sustainable transformation, not markets, according to author and economist Ann Pettifor.Pettifor, author of "The Case for the Green New Deal," told CNBC on Friday that a reliance on financial markets to steer the economy away from fossil fuels was "not tenable."She argued that since markets and societies have different interests, government intervention would be necessary to engineer a new Green Deal with state funding. A so-called Green Deal for the global economy would see ambitious — and likely costly — targets set in an effort to move the world away from fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions."We know that governments can intervene. We know that we have developed an advanced monetary system that will enable us to mobilize large sums of finance, and we did that for Wall Street, we did that when dealing with the pandemic, we know governments can do this and therefore I want to see the state take much more of a role," Pettifor told "Squawk Box Europe.""I want to see public authority over the system of transformation and not private authority. I want to see the EU leading this, not BlackRock," she added. I want to see the EU lead the way for a new Green Deal: Ann PettiforHer comments come after BlackRock CEO Larry Fink penned an annual public letter to CEOs in which he dubbed the transformation toward a green economy as a "historic investment opportunity" and called for greater disclosure from companies as to how they will survive in a world of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. Fink has maintained that climate risks and investment risks are one and the same, meaning investment managers have a fiduciary duty to direct capital toward assets seeking to address climate change.

Nine Ways Biden’s $2 Trillion Plan Will Tackle Climate Change - Here are nine key climate elements of Biden’s jobs and infrastructure plan:

  • The largest single climate-related provision in the plan is $213 billion to build, modernize and weatherize affordable housing, an idea that melds Biden’s climate and economic justice goals. The plan would tackle homes and buildings, the source of 40 percent of all U.S. carbon emissions, while addressing the shortage of quality housing for low-income communities of color.
  • Biden proposes spending $174 billion to accelerate a transition to electric vehicles in the United States through consumer incentives like tax credits to purchasers of EVs, the building of a network of 500,000 EV charging stations, and direct federal spending. For example, there would be federal funding for converting school buses to electric vehicles. And Biden proposes to use the federal procurement process to electrify the entire federal fleet of vehicles, including those of the U.S. Postal Service
  • The proposal also includes $100 billion for power grid modernization and resilience, both intended to stave off catastrophic outages like the one that was blamed for 70 deaths in Texas in February, and to upgrade the system to better handle and transport wind and solar energy. The Biden plan would establish a new Grid Deployment Authority, with an aim of making better use of existing rights-of-ways along roads and railways to site new high-voltage transmission lines.
  • Biden would make an historic $85 billion investment in modernizing public transit, support that mass transit systems would welcome after a year in which 65 percent had to cut service because of the drop in ridership and revenue resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. That investment would come on top of the $30.5 billion that was in Biden’s Covid-19 relief bill to help mass transit systems, which typically get only $10 billion annually in federal funding.
  • The plan calls for a $35 billion investment in clean technology research and development, including the launching of a new incubator for cutting edge research. Biden proposes spending $15 billion in demonstration projects that will be key for tackling climate, like utility-scale energy storage, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, advanced nuclear, rare earth element separations and floating offshore wind. Many of these areas of research already have bipartisan support.
  • Biden would spend $16 billion employing union oil and gas workers to cap abandoned oil and gas wells and clean up mines, not only helping address unemployment in fossil fuel communities, but addressing emissions of the climate super-pollutant methane from the orphaned facilities.
  • Biden’s package includes broad increases in corporate taxes, but he steered clear of including a carbon tax; though the idea has recently won support in the oil industry, neither Republicans nor Democrats on Capitol Hill have expressed enthusiasm for the idea. But Biden would fulfill his campaign pledge of eliminating fossil fuel industry subsidies, which are estimated to add up to at least $20 billion annually, including favored tax treatment for capital investments. 
  • Biden’s plan for the first time would establish a federal Energy Efficiency and Clean Electricity Standard requiring utilities to deliver a certain percentage of electricity from renewable or other clean energy sources. Although his plan did not spell out initial goals, Biden’s aim is to put the nation on track to a 100 percent carbon-pollution-free electricity sector by 2035.
  • In the most direct nod to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, Biden would invest $10 billion in a new “Civilian Climate Corps.” In addition to conservation of public lands and waters projects, which was the focus of Roosevelt’s CCC, Biden’s Climate Corps would be deployed on projects to bolster community resilience and advance environmental justice.

Biden’s $2 Trillion Proposal Could Boost Ohio Valley Infrastructure And Clean Up Energy Sector --President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan contains tens of billions of dollars to address environmental and economic issues throughout the Ohio Valley region, according to details released Wednesday by the White House.Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, had promised a major infrastructure initiative, but one never got traction during his four years in office.Speaking in Pittsburgh Wednesday, Biden called his plan the largest jobs investment since World War II. “It’s not a plan that tinkers around the edges,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-generation investment in America, unlike anything we’ve seen or done since we built the interstate highway system and the space race decades ago.”The plan includes $16 billion to plug thousands of abandoned oil and gas wells and reclaim hundreds of coal mines. The administration says the effort would create thousands of union jobs in communities hurt by the decline of fossil fuel production.  Biden proposes a $40 billion program to retrain dislocated workers for jobs in growing sectors such as clean energy, manufacturing and caregiving.The plan includes more than $100 billion in grants and loans to improve water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure and eliminate all lead pipes and service lines that supply drinking water. That could help rural communities in the region with aging water systems, such as eastern Kentucky’s Martin County, which has struggled to maintain its water system.  Comparing high-speed internet to electricity 100 years ago, Biden’s plan proposes $100 billion to bring reliable broadband to rural areas and tribal lands.A $17 billion investment in ports and inland waterways could help improve infrastructure for commerce on the Ohio River and other navigable rivers in the region.The plan commits $50 billion to improving the resilience of infrastructure to the effects of climate change, including floods and wildfires. The plan calls for a massive modernization of the nation’s electric power grid and encourages clean energy generation and storage. It would establish 10 demonstration projects to capture and store carbon emissions from industries such as steel, chemicals and cement.It would remediate and redevelop former energy and industrial sites and promote economic development through theAppalachian Regional Commission’s POWER grant program. As with traditional infrastructure bills in past administrations, Biden’s invests heavily in roads, bridges and transit systems. Republicans said the plan didn’t spend enough on infrastructure and criticized the tax increases that would pay for it. It also didn’t sit well with lawmakers from fossil fuel producing states.

Electric vehicles and biofuel: Pentagon poised to go greener under Biden - The Pentagon is weighing a series of proposals to make the military more energy efficient, from mandating all-electric vehicles to weaning trucks, ships and aircraft off of fossil fuels, according to people familiar with the options. The Biden administration has made clear from the beginning that combating climate change is a top priority — and the Pentagon, the world’s single largest energy consumer, has a key role to play. The military has a record of developing new policies intended to curb greenhouse gases, and a massive budget of roughly $700 billion annually to carry them out. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has already signaled that he will move quickly on this issue, establishing a Climate Working Group in March to coordinate the Pentagon response to climate change and track its implementation. "Climate change presents a growing threat to U.S. national security interests and defense objectives,” Austin wrote in a March 9 memo. "The department will act immediately to include the security implications of climate change in our risk analyses, strategy development and planning guidance." The possible changes, laid out by three people familiar with the proposals, come as the Biden administration rolls out an ambitious, eight-year infrastructure plan aimed at eliminating carbon emissions from the power grid by 2035 and across the economy by 2050. In parallel with this plan, the Pentagon is looking to mandate that all non-combat vehicles be electric by 2030 and to finance more projects to reduce the carbon footprint and harden facilities against the effects of climate change, according to multiple experts who have been advising the Pentagon. “Climate change is a growing threat to our security and we need to integrate climate risk into all of our planning,” said Pentagon spokesperson Pete Hughes, noting that increasing energy efficiency can also make military operations more agile. “It’s also essential that we compete for the clean energy technologies of the future as they will be essential to capability.” Still, in the face of flat defense budgets, the effort will have to compete with other top Pentagon priorities, such as modernizing the nuclear triad and developing new technologies ranging from artificial intelligence to hypersonic weapons. At least in the early going, some Republican lawmakers who are traditionally skeptical of efforts related to climate change have signaled they're willing for the military to go green if it enhances the mission.

New Bills In U.S. Senate Would Bolster Efforts To Store Carbon Underground -- A carbon capture unit attached to an industrial facility. A pair of new bills in the U.S. Senate aims to bolster the nascent carbon capture and storage industry, as oil and gas companies increasingly embrace the technology to achieve emissions reduction targets.One new bill, introduced this week, would strengthen an existing tax credit known as 45Q that lets companies take a deduction for every ton of carbon sequestered from the air and stored underground, either permanently or as part of the extraction process for liquids such as crude oil. The new bill extends by five years until 2030 the window for carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects to begin construction and qualify for the 45Q tax credit.The bill also increases the value of the 45Q credit from $50 to $120 per metric ton of CO2 captured and stored in saline geologic formations, and from $35 to $75 for CO2 captured and stored in oil and gas fields or used in the processing of fuels, chemicals or other products.The bill, called the Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage Tax Credit Amendments Act, has support from a bipartisan group of senators, according to the Carbon Capture Coalition, including Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), John Barrasso (R-WY), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), John Hoeven (R-ND) and Chris Coons (D-DE). It was introduced by Tina Smith (D-MN) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). An explainer of the bill by the Carbon Capture Coalition is here.A second bill, introduced two weeks ago, provides funding and grants to build out transportation infrastructure to ferry captured CO2 to storage locations. The increased funding is aimed at both the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, although grants would also be created for state and local governments to procure CO2 utilization products for infrastructure projects. The bill is called the Storing CO2 and Lowering Emissions Act (SCALE Act).More legislation to help scale up the technology is expected, especially as President Joe Biden prepares to unveil his $3 trillion infrastructure package."In general CCS has broad bipartisan support and it is widely expected that additional incentives or investment will make it into the infrastructure package," said Alex Dewar, a senior director at Boston Consulting Group. "The Biden administration is also likely to use a range of existing fiscal policy measures to further support CCS."

Biden White House Announces Major Boost for Offshore Wind - Taken together, the initiatives will create 77,000 jobs, generate enough electricity to power over 10 million homes for a year, and avoid 78 million metric tons of CO2 emissions, according to the administration. The plan would general 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind by 2030—a capacity that would surpass the roughly 19 GW predicted in 2019 by some industry analysts. As NBC News noted, the nation's offshore wind capacity is largely untapped:[W]hile on-land wind farms have flourished in recent years, offshore wind has yet to take off in a significant way, in part due to bureaucratic and permitting hurdles that were a source of major frustration for renewable energy companies during the Trump administration. As of now, the U.S. has only one operational offshore commercial wind farm, with just five turbines.According to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, making up for such inaction is urgent."For generations," Haaland said in a statement, "we've put off the transition to clean energy and now we're facing a climate crisis." Although "every community is facing more extreme weather and the costs associated with that," Haaland said that "not every community has the resources to rebuild, or even get up and relocate when a climate event happens in their backyards." She noted that the "climate crisis disproportionately impacts communities of color and low-income families."Among steps announced by the Interior, Commerce, and Energy departments were a data sharing agreement between NOAA and offshore wind development company Ørsted Wind Power North America to help development of infrastructure; the identification of nearly 800,000 acres in the shallow ocean triangle known as the New York Bight to be "Wind Energy Areas"; $8 million for 15 new offshore wind research and development projects; and notice that BOEM would launch an Environmental Impact Statement for Ocean Wind's proposed 1,100 megawatt facility off the coast of New Jersey."The ocean energy bureau said it will push to sell commercial leases in the area in late 2021 or early 2022," the Associated Press reported.

 Biden targets big offshore wind power expansion to fight climate change  (Reuters) - The Biden administration on Monday unveiled a goal to expand the nation’s fledgling offshore wind energy industry in the coming decade by opening new areas to development, accelerating permits, and boosting public financing for projects. The plan is part of President Joe Biden’s broader effort to eliminate U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to fight climate change, an agenda that Republicans argue could bring economic ruin but which Democrats say can create jobs while protecting the environment. The blueprint for offshore wind power generation comes after the Biden administration’s suspension of new oil and gas leasing auctions on federal lands and waters, widely seen as a first step to fulfilling the president’s campaign promise of a permanent ban on new federal drilling to counter global warming. The United States, with just two small offshore wind facilities, has lagged European nations in developing the renewable energy technology. The administration of Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump had vowed to launch offshore wind as a promising new domestic industry but failed to permit any projects. “We’re ready to rock and roll,” National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy said at a virtual press conference to announce the administration’s moves. The plan sets a target to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030, which the administration said would be enough to power 10 million homes and cut 78 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. One of the first steps will be to open a new offshore wind energy development zone in the New York Bight, an area off the densely populated coast between Long Island, New York and New Jersey, with a lease auction there later this year. The industry will employ 44,000 workers directly by 2030 and support 33,000 additional support jobs, the administration said, with a promise that they would be “good-paying union jobs.” Many of those jobs will be created at new factories that will produce the blades, towers and other components for massive offshore wind turbines and at shipyards where the specialized ships needed to install them will be constructed. The administration predicted the nation would see port upgrade investments related to offshore wind of more than $500 million. The administration said it will also aim to speed up project permits, including environmental reviews, and provide $3 billion in public financing for offshore wind projects through the Department of Energy.

Climate activists on Biden infrastructure plan: Go bigger -President Joe Biden's $2 trillion climate and infrastructure plan is too modest to address a global emergency, some environmental advocates say. The plan to splurge on transitioning the nation to clean energy, rebuilding the country’s roads and bridges, and improving access to clean water and broadband pales next to the $1 trillion in annual spending that the most ardent climate activists and unions say they want over the next decade to tackle climate change. “We need to have a larger investment than is currently being talked about because of the scale of the need, of the economic crisis,” said Keya Chatterjee, executive director of the U.S. Climate Action Network, an environmental advocacy group. “We need to come out of this with a reimagined society.” Ben Beachy, director of the Sierra Club's Living Economy program, told POLITICO that “there is a lot to like in this proposal. Much of it really is transformative.” But still, he added: “Congress needs to up the ante on scale to deliver a plan that’s as big as the crises that we face. Today's proposal is a good start and we need to go bigger.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic lawmaker who has called for aggressive climate action, weighed in Tuesday evening, tweeting that the overall package "is not nearly enough. The important context here is that it’s $2.25T spread out over 10 years. For context, the COVID package was $1.9T for this year *alone,* with some provisions lasting 2 years. Needs to be way bigger." Others are more optimistic, including Biden's environmental allies, whose pressure during last year's presidential campaign prompted the then-Democratic nominee to ramp up the ambition of his climate goals. For them, after four years of federal inaction under former President Donald Trump, the proposed spending represents a sea change that could push the world’s largest economy headlong into revamping its manufacturing, industry and infrastructure with climate in mind. Biden's proposals call for hundreds of billions of dollars for investments in electric vehicle manufacturing, research for breakthrough technology to sharply curb planet-heating emissions, massive jobs efforts aimed at plugging abandoned wells and mines, new labor and wage standards tied to renewable energy tax credits, an end to fossil fuel subsidies and the use of the federal government's purchasing power to buy cleaner products, electrify the vehicle fleet and adopt zero-carbon energy.

New wind-energy areas off Jersey coast  -The federal government is planning to open up new areas off the Jersey coast for offshore wind farms, a development that could accelerate the Murphy administration’s goal to transition to clean energy in New Jersey. In a series of announcements Monday, the Department of Interior said it has identified nearly 800,000 acres in the New York Bight, a triangular area of coastline between Long Island and New Jersey, as potential wind-energy areas, a designation that could lead to new offshore wind farms being developed there. The Biden administration also committed to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030, creating nearly 80,000 jobs. The commitments marked a reversal of policies by the prior administration, which advocated drilling for offshore oil and gas instead of shifting to clean-energy technologies like offshore wind aggressively pushed by New Jersey and other states along the Eastern Seaboard. “For generations, we’ve put off the transition to clean energy and now we’re facing a climate crisis,’’ said Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland, at a White House forum. “It’s a crisis that doesn’t discriminate — every community is facing more extreme weather and the costs associated with that.’’ The New York Bight is located in an area of shallow water, a parcel where offshore wind farms could be located to help states meet their offshore wind goals. New Jersey has set a target of 7,500 megawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2035. New York has a goal of 9,000 mw by 2035, too. “The Murphy administration has finally found a willing partner in Washington,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “The potential for offshore wind is limitless.’’ If the 30,000 megawatts does come from the potential offshore wind farms, that means dozens of potential fossil fuel plants won’t be needed, O’Malley said. “We were hoping the Biden administration would open up the spigots for offshore wind,” he added. Additionally, the Interior Department said it is initiating the environmental review of the nation’s third commercial-scale offshore wind project by announcing its notice of intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the Ocean Wind LLC project. The facility, expected to be New Jersey’s first offshore wind farm, is proposed to be built about 15 miles off Atlantic City. The project will have a total capacity of 1,100 mw — enough to power about a half-million homes across New Jersey. The project is being developed by Ørsted, with a partial interest from the Public Service Enterprise Group. It is not expected to be operational until 2025.

Orsted to link a huge offshore wind farm to 'renewable' hydrogen production - Danish energy company Orsted wants to construct a large-scale offshore wind farm in the North Sea and link it to so-called "renewable" hydrogen production on the European mainland, with the project garnering support from several major industrial firms. Under the proposals, which were outlined on Wednesday, Orsted would develop a 2 gigawatt (GW) offshore wind facility and 1 GW of electrolyzer capacity, with the company claiming its plans would result in "one of the world's largest renewable hydrogen plants to be linked to industrial demand." The SeaH2Land development — which is supported by companies including ArcelorMittal, Yara and Dow — would also include 45 kilometers of hydrogen pipelines between Belgium and the Netherlands. The electrolyzer part of the project — to be built in two 500 megawatt phases — would use electricity from the wind farm to produce hydrogen. Among other things, partners involved in the development need to undertake a full feasibility study of SeaH2Land, while Orsted has yet to take a final investment decision. If all goes smoothly and the project gets the green light, however, both portions of the electrolyzer could be up and running by 2030. "As the world looks to decarbonise, it's paramount that we act now to secure the long-term competitiveness of European industry in a green economy," Martin Neubert, Orsted's chief commercial officer, said in a statement. Described by the International Energy Agency as a "versatile energy carrier," hydrogen has a diverse range of applications and can be produced in a number of ways. One method includes using electrolysis, with an electric current splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen. If the electricity used in the process comes from a renewable source such as wind or solar then some describe it as "green" or "renewable" hydrogen. The last few years have seen a number of businesses take an interest in projects connected to renewable hydrogen, while major economies such as the European Union have laid out plans to install at least 40 GW of renewable hydrogen electrolyzers by 2030. In March, a major green hydrogen facility in Germany started operations. The "WindH2" project, as it's known, involves German steel giant Salzgitter, E.ON subsidiary Avacon and Linde, a firm specializing in engineering and industrial gas.

counter early research on large turbines, bird deaths -- Friday, April 2, 2021 -- Larger wind turbines are not to blame for bird deaths at wind farms, despite claims in earlier research, according to a new federal study.

After local pushback, Indiana bill on wind, solar standards takes a '180 degree turn' - A bill that would have overridden local ordinances that restrict or prohibit wind power in Indiana has taken a “180 degree turn” after pushback from local officials.  HB 1381 would establish statewide standards for how close wind and solar projects can be to other properties. But a new amendment would allow county and local governments to maintain restrictive ordinances, while also offering a hefty incentive for abandoning them. The bill was amended in the Senate Utilities hearing Thursday morning to include the option for counties to adopt “renewable energy districts.” Essentially, these districts would provide a space for governments to approve wind projects — if a group of property owners want the turbines on their land — while maintaining local control over their siting. The key is that the bill no longer requires localities to change their standards or approve projects as the previous iteration did. Instead, it dangles a carrot for them to do so.   The amended bill establishes a one-time funding source for these local governments that could bring in as much as $3,000 per megawatt capacity of the wind project. One wind turbine alone has a capacity of  2.5 to 3 megawatts, meaning a wind project of multiple acres and dozens of turbines could bring in a significant boost to a local economy, legislators say.  This funding is an important bridge between lawmakers and local officials who have been concerned about wind projects’ impacts on nearby property values, said Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, who authored the 47-page amendment.   “It allows some dollars to come in to help compensate the neighbors of those projects,” he said in the hearing. “We felt that was key.”

Solar energy chasing nuclear capacity in Ohio  Solar energy is poised to challenge nuclear power as the third-largest source of electricity generation in Ohio, according to a new analysis.The Buckeye state is in the midst of a solar boom, with dozens of large projects in various stages of development, despite political headwinds. The latest approvals this month by the Ohio Power Siting Board pushed the state’s approved solar project pipeline to about 2.1 gigawatts, with another 4.3 gigawatts’ worth of projects pending before regulators.If all of those projects are completed, the state’s annual potential solar output would total about 14 million megawatt-hours — closing in on the roughly 17 million MWh capacity from the state’s two nuclear power plants.That’s according to a new analysis by Ohio University policy analyst Gilbert Michaud and University of Wyoming economist Christelle Khalaf. The report,  which was commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council, takes into account differences in the two sources’ capacity factors — how output varies due to weather, repairs, maintenance and other conditions. The report comes as state lawmakers consider the latest set of bills to further hinder solar and wind development in the state, and as NRDC and others try to push back on a false narrative that nuclear power offers the only significant potential for large-scale carbon-free electricity in the state.Ohio’s solar queue has almost tripled since last year. Driving the expansion of proposed solar projects has been a demand for clean energy by multiple large corporations, as well as ambitious clean energy targets by other states in the PJM grid region, according to Jason Rafeld, executive director of the Utility Scale Solar Energy Coalition. “Unlike states east of us, Ohio has abundant open, flat and dry land that is ideal for solar farms,” Rafeld said during recent legislative testimony. And costs for utility-scale solar have come down 90% since 2009, he noted, making it competitive with any fuel source.

Texas Senate passes bill aiming to counter federal subsidies for wind and solar power - While President Joe Biden moves to expand the use of renewable energy nationwide, the Texas Legislature is doing the opposite, adding fees on solar and wind electricity production in the state in hopes of boosting fossil fuels.Among the reforms of the state’s electric grid following last month’s deadly winter storms, Republicans in the Texas Senate have included new fees aimed at solar and wind companies that Democrats warn would damage the state’s standing as a national leader on renewable energy production, particularly wind power.State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, said while wind and solar have expanded in Texas, those are “unreliable” sources of energy because they cannot be called up at a moment’s notice during an emergency like the freeze in February.To correct that, Schwertner said his bill will give the state’s grid monitor authority to create fees for solar and wind. As it stands now, he said billions of dollars in federal subsidies to wind and solar companies have “tilted” the market too much to benefit those sources of energy, and he aims to re-balance it.Yet fossil fuels also receive government subsidies of roughly $20 billion a year, according to some estimates.Democrats in the Senate say raising fees on green energy would be a step in the wrong direction for a state that has done well in developing wind and solar. Over the last decade, renewable energy has surged past coal and nuclear power to become the state’s second-leading source of electrical power, after natural gas, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.“This section could actually be detrimental to renewables,” said State Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio.  TEXAS GRID REFORMS

  • The Texas Senate on Monday passed a major set of reforms for the state's electrical system. The legislation next goes to the Texas House for consideration. If both chambers pass identical bills, it can go to Gov. Greg Abbott for his approval. Here are some key elements of that bill.
  • Weatherization: Would require power companies and energy producers to weatherize facilities, including transmission lines, at their own expense to assure they can stand up to extreme freezing temperatures.
  • Wind and Solar fees: Would direct the state's grid manager to charge solar and wind producers for not being reliable enough to help more during winter storms.
  • Rolling outage drills: Would require a test run of how rolling outage operations work. During winter storms, attempts to turn off power temporarily turned into days-long outages because of mistakes and technical glitches.
  • Prohibit wholesale electric index plans: Would end wholesale electric plans that resulted in some homeowners getting hit with astronomical electric bills
  • Emergency price maximums: During electricity emergencies, would allow maximum pricing for electricity to last only 12 hours rather that going on for days.
  • Emergency alert system: Would create an alert system to notify Texans when power outages are anticipated.

Analysis reveals nearly 200 died in Texas cold storm and blackouts, almost double the official count - The deaths of nearly 200 people are linked to February’s cold snap and blackouts, a Houston Chronicle analysis reveals, making the natural disaster one of the worst in Texas this past century. The tally, which is nearly double the state’s official count, comes from an investigation of reports from medical examiners, justices of the peace and Department of State Health Services, as well as lawsuits and news stories.The state count, which is preliminary, has yet to incorporate some deaths already flagged by medical examiners as storm-related. The 194 deaths identified by the Chronicle so far include at least 100 cases of hypothermia that killed people in their homes or while exposed to the elements, at least 16 carbon monoxide poisonings of residents who used dangerous methods for heat and at least 22 Texans who died when medical devices failed without power or who were unable to seek live-saving care because of the weather.Sixteen deaths were from other causes, such as fires or vehicle wrecks, while the remaining 40 were attributed by authorities to the storm without listing a specific cause.“This is almost double the death toll from Hurricane Harvey,” said State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas. “There was no live footage of flooded homes, or roofs being blown off, or tidal surges, but this was more deadly and devastating than anything we’ve experienced in modern state history.”The toll is almost certain to grow in coming weeks as death investigators in the state’s most populous counties clear a backlog in cases from the cold snap. The Travis County medical examiner alone is investigating more than 80 deaths between Feb. 13 and Feb. 20.

Texas House passes numerous bills to overhaul state's power grid | KEYE — Days after the Texas Senate beat them to the punch by passing a bill requiring weatherization and a statewide alert system for power outages, the House passed a slew of power grid bills overlapping with the upper chamber counterpart legislation Wednesday.The lower chamber passed a total of six power grid bills, which cover topics that are already part of the unanimously-passed Senate Bill 3, which will now be sent to the Senate.State representatives passed House Bill 10, which deals with the leadership structure of the independent organization charged with overseeing the power grid - ERCOT, currently.A day after the Texas Senate passed a wide-ranging power grid bill, the House is considering a number of such bills on their own during Tuesday's floor session.This bill requires the board to have at least three governor appointees, one lieutenant governor appointee, and one house speaker appointee, in addition to the 11 other members already outlined in current code.These members will serve staggered two-year terms, and must be a resident of the state.House Bill 11 outlines weatherization requirements for utility providers.Unlike its Senate counterpart, the House bill did not spell out penalties for those in violation of these requirements, but an amendment was added that authorized the Public Utility Commission of Texas to hand down penalties for not complying with this law."We know lack of weatherization was not the only issue that resulted in the electrical failures, but it certainly was a part of the issue," said state Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, and the bill author.The House passed HB 11 unanimously.

Come Clean - Low Carbon Fuel Policies and How They're Changing the Transportation Sector  -- As part of the Paris Agreement and other regional sustainability goals, countries across the globe are formulating strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The resultant policies target numerous different areas such as stationary emissions, electricity production, and transportation fuel sourcing. Within the transportation sector, one aspect that has spurred quite a bit of investment relates to reducing the carbon intensity of transportation fuels. The “low carbon fuel” policies that are in place today, coupled with those that are being evaluated for the future, have the potential to displace a sizeable portion of the petroleum-based fuels in the regions where they are adopted. In today’s blog, we begin a series on low carbon fuel policies, the mechanisms being evaluated to meet increasingly stringent regulations, and the impact these regulations could have on refined-products markets. Given the global focus on reducing emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHGs), it’s only natural that folks in the business of producing, transporting, processing, and refining hydrocarbons need to stay abreast of what’s going on. We’ve been helping out in that regard by writing a number of blogs on GHG-related topics, including series on ESG and hydrogen. There’s so much more to discuss, though, especially on the increasing number of laws and regulations being implemented in the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere that are aimed at decarbonizing the transportation sector. With that in mind, we thought it would make sense to undertake a blog series that delves into these efforts in detail — after all, they already are changing how refiners do business and will have only greater effects going forward. Today, we’ll start with an overview of different regulatory mechanisms that have been adopted and are being discussed to reduce GHG emissions from on-road transportation fuel use. As we noted in the introduction, GHG emission-reduction policies can cover a broad list of targets – everything from electricity production; home heating; stationary emissions from industrial facilities, buildings, and landfills; and fuel usage in the transportation sector. In this series, our focus is on-road transportation fuels — i.e., the gasoline and diesel you put in your cars and trucks — and especially on one aspect of these fuels: their Carbon Intensity (CI) value. (More on CI in a moment.)

California to Test Whether Big Batteries Can Stop Summer Blackouts - With summer’s heat approaching, California’s plan for avoiding a repeat of last year’s blackouts hinges on a humble savior – the battery. Giant versions of the same technology that powers smart phones and cars are being plugged into the state’s electrical grid at breakneck speed, with California set to add more battery capacity this year than all of China, according to BloombergNEF. It will be the biggest test yet of whether batteries are reliable enough to sustain a grid largely powered by renewables. Last year, when the worst heat wave in a generation taxed California’s power system and plunged millions into darkness in the first rolling blackouts since the Enron crisis, many blamed the state’s aggressive clean-energy push and its reliance on solar power. Should a heat wave strike again this summer, it will be up to batteries save the day. Their success or failure may even have implications for President Joe Biden’s ambitious plan to achieve a carbon-free electricity system by 2035 – which would require massive battery deployment and the expansion of renewable energy systems across the nation. Biden's long-awaited infrastructure plan, unveiled this week, includes a tax credit for grid-scale batteries, according to U.S. Energy Storage Association. They're part of his larger effort not just to shift to renewable power but to make the aging electric grid more reliable. ``This is going to be the preview summer for batteries in California, and we want to make sure this initial chapter is as successful as possible,’’ said Elliot Mainzer, chief executive officer of the California Independent System Operator, which runs the grid across most of the state. By this August, the state will have 1,700 megawatts of new battery capacity -- enough to power 1.3 million homes and, in theory, avert a grid emergency on the scale of last year’s.

 Coal Is In Terminal Decline, But China’s Consumption Is Climbing - Once one of the world’s cheapest and most abundant fuel sources, coal is now struggling to compete against clean energy alternatives that are now cost-competitive (both solar and wind power became cheaper than coal in most of the world back in 2019). At the same time, the flood of low-emissions natural gas from the United States shale revolution has also driven down demand for coal.  But all of that was before the global pandemic tore through the global economy and transformed our collective priorities. We’ve seen this before. Countries often make lofty climate goals and commit to leaving coal behind until crisis hits – and then they run back to their old stalwart fuel source. It happened to Japan after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster drove the country away from nuclear energy. It’s happening to Mexico as the nation scrambles to shore up its energy security in the face of an economic downturn. Canada considered a return to coal to fill the economic holes left by the demise of its oil sands. And now China is leading the charge back to coal in an effort to establish energy security and sovereignty in the face of economic downturn and pandemic fears.According to a report from Power Engineering this week, “China has emerged far and away as the dominant driver in [coal’s] rising relevance for the developing world.” While the world’s coal consumption dropped by 4 percent, China’s gained 2 percent over the last year. “Worldwide,” the report continues, “China now accounts for 53 percent of the overall coal-fired generation portfolio.” China’s rise in coal production and consumption is not limited to domestic activity. At the same time that Beijing has been committing to loftier climate goals than ever before, pledging to go carbon neutral by 2060 and to reach peak emissions in just a decade, it has ramped up coal production both at home and abroad, where at least a portion of those increased emissions will be attributed to other country’s carbon footprints. Two years and an eternity ago, Yale Environment 360 predicted China’s return to coal and warned that the country’s ambitious overseas development plans will directly imperil global climate initiatives. “China’s Belt and Road Initiative is a colossal infrastructure plan that could transform the economies of nations around the world,” the article stated. “But with its focus on coal-fired power plants, the effort could obliterate any chance of reducing emissions and tip the world into catastrophic climate change.” China is not just re-emerging as a coal-fired world power. Beijing has also positioned itself at theforefront of the global clean energy movement and China holds a monopoly on many of the rare earth metals that the clean energy production chain relies on. To characterize China as a one-dimensional climate destroyer or climate savior is clearly a massive and disingenuous oversimplification of the issue. While these kinds of flattened portrayals are common, the reality is much more complex, and the nuances of it are extremely important, not just for China, but for the globe. As the world’s second-largest economy (for now) and largest greenhouse gas emitter by a massive margin, China’s success or failure in its climate pledges is of paramount importance to the entire world. A return to coal is not the whole story, but it’s a seriously worrying development.

 Coal Country Races to Shield Itself From Biden’s Climate Plan -Coal’s slow downfall is gaining momentum across the U.S. as clean energy becomes cheaper and wins widespread support, but lawmakers in mining states from Wyoming to West Virginia are determined to fight back with a series of roadblocks to President Joe Biden’s plan to cut greenhouse-gas emissions. Seeking to prolong the lifespan of an industry that’s vital to local economies, at least five states are seeking to pass legislation that would give them weapons such as bigger hurdles to shut coal-fired plants, a war chest for potential legal battles, more power to state regulators over utilities, tax cuts and cheaper state insurance for power stations. The race to shield coal country from an energy transition that Biden contends will generate jobs and wealth in everything from solar-panel manufacturing to wind power generation highlights the political complexity of the shift to renewables. Even some Democrats in coal-producing states support the efforts to protect people’s livelihoods and the funding of schools and other public services in areas that derive income from the dirtiest fossil fuel. Meanwhile, utilities say the measures will drive up costs for ratepayers, while environmental groups say they’re only slowing, not stopping, the eventual move away from coal.“It’s not planning for the future,” said Dennis Wamsted, an analyst for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. “It’s protecting the past.”In Colstrip, a town in eastern Montana founded by the Northern Pacific Railway in 1924 to provide coal for steam locomotives, a power plant supplied by local mines has long been crucial to the area’s economy. That’s why Mark Sweeney, a Democratic state senator, supports proposals aimed specifically at keeping it open. Even though he recognizes climate change is a serious issue and that his stance makes him an outlier in his party, he says he worries about the devastating impact of a shutdown to the community. If it shuts, "it's a ghost town," he said. Sweeney, who hopes the Colstrip plant can run for at least another 10 years, also argues that few emissions are produced delivering coal from the nearby mine, and that’s much more efficient than shipping the fuel to power plants in other states or across the world. “The last one that should be shut down is the one that's sitting on a coal pile,” he said by phone. “We have a whole lot of coal."In Wyoming, the country’s biggest coal producer, the Republican-dominated legislature is considering a bill that would require the Public Service Commission to assume that early retirement of coal-fired power plants isn’t in the state’s best interest, making it harder for utilities to shut facilities they’ve determined aren’t economic. Another proposal would set aside half a million dollars for legal challengesagainst other states that pass laws restricting the use of coal.

Senate passes bill with requirements aimed at keeping coal-fired plants operating as long as possible - The West Virginia Senate has unanimously passed a bill that would require coal-fired power plants owned by public electric utilities in the state 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 House of Delegates, would also require public electric utilities to give notice to the West Virginia Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, state Public Service Commission and the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Government and Finance before announcing the retirement or proposed shutdown of a an electricity-generating unit.The legislation, passed without debate on the Senate floor Wednesday, is a gutted version of the original bill that would have made further-reaching reforms to keep West Virginia’s dwindling fleet of coal plants operating as long as possible. Those reforms included requiring in-state power producers to maintain 2019 coal consumption levels and file compliance plans every three years with the long dormant state Public Energy Authority specifying their fuel supply and how 2019 coal consumption levels would be maintained.West Virginia Coal Association and United Mine Workers of America representatives enthusiastically endorsed the original version of the bill to the Senate Energy, Industry and Mining Committee, but representatives from Appalachian Power, FirstEnergy and Dominion Energy as well as state Public Service Commission Chairman Charlotte Lane all expressed reservations with the bill.Appalachian Power and FirstEnergy representatives told the committee that the bill was uneconomic and would introduce unnecessary costs for the companies that they would then have to transfer to ratepayers.The result was a new version of the bill that would mandate power producers maintain a 30-day fuel supply onsite instead of a 90-day supply to come closer to what representatives from Appalachian Power, FirstEnergy and Dominion Energy told the energy committee was the supply amount they currently keep onsite.

West Virginia gov, company ordered to pay $6.8M in coal feud  (AP) — A federal judge in Delaware has ordered West Virginia Gov. James Justice and one of his family-owned coal companies to pay $6.8 million for breaching a contract with a Pennsylvania coal exporter.The ruling was handed down Monday in a lawsuit filed in 2018 by Pennsylvania-based Xcoal Energy & Resources.Xcoal claimed that the billionaire coal magnate and two of his companies, Roanoke, Virginia-based Bluestone Energy Sales Corp. and Southern Coal Corp., failed to fulfill a 2017 agreement to deliver hundreds of thousands of tons of coal for shipment overseas.The Justice companies argued that Xcoal breached the agreement in several ways, and that it has a history of being sued by other coal companies for failing to complete shipments and then deflecting blame.U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Stark ruled that Xcoal had proven by a preponderance of the evidence that Bluestone was the party that breached the coal supply agreement, and that the defendants failed to prove any of their counterclaims.Stark determined that Xcoal was entitled to slightly more than $6.8 million in damages from Justice and Southern Coal.Xcoal and Bluestone entered into an agreement in 2017 under which Bluestone would supply Xcoal with 720,000 net tons of metallurgical grade coal from a mine in Bishop, West Virginia. Southern Coal and Justice guaranteed the payment and performance obligations of Bluestone, a pass-through entity with no assets.The agreement entitled Xcoal to a $9.88 per ton discount from market price, with deliveries to be made in monthly installments of about 30,000 tons over 24 months.The companies quickly found themselves at odds over the timing and method of rail shipments, as well as the sampling and quality of the coal being delivered. As a result, Xcoal received less than 24,000 tons of coal over seven months between November 2017 and May 2018, when Xcoal filed its lawsuit, leaving more than 696,000 tons undelivered.The agreement did not specify whether Xcoal or Bluestone was to arrange for empty Norfolk Southern railcars to be brought to the mine.Noting that responsibility for obtaining the empty rail cars was the critical issue in the case, the judge found that Bluestone was responsible for getting the empty railcars and it breached the agreement by failing to do so. Stark said Xcoal was entitled to damages equaling $9.98 for each ton of undelivered coal, offset by a payment of $65,000 that it had withheld.Lawyers for Justice and his two companies argued that Xcoal and its owner, Ernie Thrasher, had placed unreasonable commercial demands for coal shipments from Bluestone that went beyond the scope of the agreement. They also said Xcoal unreasonably rejected shipments of coal. The trial in the case began last August but was quickly knocked off course when one of Justice’s attorneys informed Stark after opening statements about an anonymous letter he had received earlier that morning. The one-page letter bore a Pittsburgh postmark and was signed “XCOAL WHISTLE BLOWER.”  The letter alleged that Thrasher had settled an earlier lawsuit by signing a new coal sales agreement with Bluestone with no intention of meeting Xcoal’s contractual obligations. It claimed that Thrasher’s plan was to force Bluestone to default through delayed coal shipments and withheld payments so Xcoal could collect a $10 million guarantee from Justice.The letter also suggested that Thrasher contrived to not accept shipments from Bluestone by obtaining false lab reports about the chemical composition of the coal, that Xcoal had someone “inside” coal-testing company SGS, and that Rick Taylor, an Xcoal consultant, directed the lab to falsify results. The letter also claimed that Norfolk Southern granted favored treatment and special rates to Xcoal.

Sierra Club Warns State Could Wind Up Subsidizing Coal Mining  - Innocuous legislation enabling the state to take over regulation of the coal mining industry would cost Tennessee more money and could create environmental problems, according to the Sierra Club. House Bill 90 carried by Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro, and Senate Bill 742, co-sponsored by Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, is designed to clean up legislation passed in 2018 to put coal mining regulations under state authority, shifting oversight from the federal Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement. The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee passed the legislation Tuesday morning without discussion. The matter is to be taken up Wednesday in the Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Powers told lawmakers Tennessee is the only state of 23 with surface mining that doesn’t have its own regulatory program, but he acknowledged a review of Tennessee’s plan by the federal government makes it clear that changes must be made before it takes over for the feds. The federal government must be able to determine that the state’s program is “at least as stringent as federal law” and that the state can administer and operate it, said Powers, who passed the initial legislation in 2018. House Majority Leader William Lamberth, who is sponsoring the bill for Gov. Bill Lee’s Administration, told Tennessee Lookout the state is simply working out the details for taking over regulation from the federal government. He was not concerned about the possibility the legislation could cost Tennessee at least $870,000 to create a regulatory division.Tennessee has gotten about $2.3 million in federal grants to set up the regulatory structure. The Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club, however, contends the state has done such a poor job of preparing to regulate coal it should leave the program up to the federal government and avoid the expense of hiring people to run the program. In addition, it says Tennessee could be forced to pay the costs of a coal mine shutdown when companies go bankrupt in an industry that is barely alive. “This is, frankly, irresponsible for people to be voting to set up a program that is, A, going to cost us money and, B, lead us to having greater liabilities in regard to cleanup of mines that are now going to be bankrupt,” 

Alabama mine workers plan strike against Warrior Met Coal - The United Mine Workers of America is planning to go on strike at Warrior Met Coal starting at 10:30 a.m. April 1.Brookwood-based Warrior Met Coal is one of central Alabama's largest public companies.The group cited unfair labor practices involving more than 1,100 workers at all of the company’s operations. The strike notice involves the No. 4, 5 and 7 mines as well as the Central Shop. “These productive, professional miners at Warrior Met mined the coal that meant the company could become successful again,” UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said. “And Warrior Met has capitalized on their hard work, earning tens of millions in profits for their Wall Street owners. They have even rewarded upper management with bonuses of up to $35,000 in recent weeks." Warrior Met Coal leaders offered in a statement they have continued attempts to reach an agreement on the contract that ends April 1. They said employees are valued and every effort was made to keep employees and their livelihoods secure during the pandemic. The UMWA has filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board relating to Warrior Met’s conduct during negotiations. The union will cover dues-paying members with health care coverage and assistance payments during strike duty. “Despite repeated attempts by our negotiating team to bridge the differences we have at the bargaining table, Warrior Met is going backwards,” Roberts said. “We have always been ready to reach a fair agreement that recognizes the sacrifices our members and their families made to keep this company alive. At this point, Warrior Met is not.” Warrior Met Coal said it respects the decision to strike and will continue negotiations in an effort to find a resolution.

Cap the coal ash or truck it out? ADEM holds public hearing in Shelby County — In Shelby County Thursday night, ADEM gave people in the community a chance to speak up about what they think should be done with the coal ash at Alabama Power's Gaston steam plant in Shelby County. The meeting is the second public hearing this week. "That stuff is poison," says long time Wilsonville resident Will McCarty. McCarty is one of many community members hoping ADEM doesn't give Alabama Power the permit the company is seeking. "To cap or not to cap the coal ash pond?" is the question. Coal ash is the by product of burning coal at power plants. Supporters of capping like Blake Hardwich of the Energy Institute of Alabama, say capping is what's best for the community. "Safe, secure, technically reliable, and sound to close in place instead of trucking, which is another option. Trucking and excavating coal ash and taking it through state highways and in communities where you could cause even more environmental damage," says Hardwich. On the other hand, some people in the community would like to see the coal ash moved.... Citing research showing coal ash leaks into groundwater around its ponds and creates public health problems. "It's irresponsible, and so we're here to speak up to ADEM and ask them to tell Alabama Power to move this ash off of our waterways," says Justinn Overton, executive director of Coosa Riverkeeper. Overton says the best outcome would be moving it. "In other states like Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina.... this ash is being moved in a reasonable time period and under budget to upland lined modern landfills away from our waterways," she says. One by one, people were allowed to tell ADEM representatives their concerns. ADEM will continue accepting questions until April 8th at 5 pm, and responses to the questions will be delivered when ADEM decides what will be done.

Study Shows Bias, Conflicts Of Interest Among Doctors Who Read Black Lung X-rays -Doctors hired by coal companies in black lung cases are far less likely to diagnose the disease in X-rays than are independent doctors or those who are hired by coal miners, a new study has concluded, pointing to conflicts of interest in the system that sick miners use to receive assistance.The doctors who worked for coal companies to read the chest X-rays of miners found an absence of the disease nearly 85% of the time, according to the authors of the study, published Friday by the University of Illinois Chicago School of Public Health’s Division of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences. In contrast, the doctors whose clients were coal miners found an absence of black lung a little more than 51% of the time.“The more frequently a physician is hired by the employer/mine-operator to provide a medical opinion related to workers compensation cases for black lung disease, the more likely that physician will not identify black lung disease on a chest X-ray,” the study concluded. “The opposite is true too.”The study, published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society, looked at 264 specialists in pulmonology and radiology who reviewed X-rays for more than 37,000 miners from 2000 to 2013. The study examined more than 7,000 court decisions in black lung claims cases from 2002 to 2019 to determine who hired the doctors involved.The study found that coal companies paid their doctors up to 10 times more compared to doctors hired by miners or their advocates.“The miners are not paying that much to people reading X-rays on their behalf,” said Robert Cohen, a pulmonologist at the University of Illinois Chicago and one of the study’s authors.Cohen said that the general market fee for physicians who read X-rays for black lung runs $75 to $100, while those hired by coal companies can be paid as much as $750 to $1,000.“It’s just what the market will bear,” he said. “Folks that have a lot of money can pay a lot of money to get the readings that they desire.”Central Appalachia has seen a resurgence of black lung disease in coal miners in recent years, particularly in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia. A 2018 federal study found that 1 in 5 Central Appalachian miners had the disease, versus 1 in 10 miners nationwide. The study Cohen co-wrote illustrates the difficulty facing coal miners in obtaining federal workers’ compensation benefits for black lung disease, and the absence of a “gold standard” for determining who has it. Its authors recommend a series of changes to eliminate conflicts of interest and make the system fairer.

EU experts to say nuclear power qualifies for green investment label: document (Reuters) - Experts tasked with assessing whether the European Union should label nuclear power as a green investment will say that the fuel qualifies as sustainable, according to a document reviewed by Reuters. The European Commission is attempting to finish its sustainable finance taxonomy, which will decide which economic activities can be labelled as a sustainable investment in the EU, based on whether they meet strict environmental criteria. Brussels’ expert advisors last year split over whether nuclear power deserved a green label, recognising that while it produces very low planet-warming CO2 emissions, more analysis was needed on the environmental impact of radioactive waste disposal. The Commission asked the Joint Research Centre (JRC), its scientific expert arm, to report on the issue. A draft of the JRC report, seen by Reuters and due to be published next week, said nuclear deserves a green label. “The analyses did not reveal any science-based evidence that nuclear energy does more harm to human health or to the environment than other electricity production technologies,” it said. Storage of nuclear waste in deep geologic formations is deemed “appropriate and safe”, it said, citing countries including France and Finland in the advanced stages of developing such sites. Two expert committees will scrutinise the JRC’s findings for three months, before the Commission takes a final decision.

White House Wants Nuclear in Clean Energy Mandate, Gina McCarthy Says -  Nuclear energy should be one of the power sources eligible for a national clean energy mandate sought by the White House as part of its infrastructure plan, presidential climate adviser Gina McCarthy told reporters. McCarthy’s remarks on Thursday came amid concern about the carbon-free fuel source from progressives and some environmentalists who have qualms about radioactive waste and uranium mining for reactor fuel. Inclusion of nuclear in the so-called Clean Energy Standard, which requires the generation of clean power, could be a boon for companies including NuScale Power LLC, TerraPower LLC, Westinghouse Electric Co., General Electric Co., and Exelon Corp. “The CES is going to be fairly robust and it is going to be inclusive,” McCarthy said on the call, adding that carbon capture, which also has drawn the ire of some green groups, will be included in the emerging energy proposal as well. The White House wants the clean energy requirement, which was included in the $2.25 trillion infrastructure plan President Joe Biden unveiled Wednesday, to be passed as part of whatever bill emerges as a vehicle in Congress, McCarthy said. But some analysts have questioned whether such a proposal would be allowed under the budget reconciliation process that allows passage of some tax and spending legislation on a simple majority vote, which is how Democrats are expected to attempt to pass the infrastructure bill.

Nation’s 1st advanced nuclear reactor could operate near Tri-Cities under new agreement - What could be the nation’s first commercial advanced nuclear power reactor would be built and operated near Richland under a partnership agreement signed Thursday. X-energy, of Rockville, Md., will work with Energy Northwest of Richland and Grant County PUD to develop, build and operate an 80-megawatt reactor, the Xe-100, on land already leased by Energy Northwest at the Hanford nuclear reservation in Eastern Washington. Advanced reactors are intended to be designed with enhanced safety features and a smaller footprint for their modular design concept. Their smaller size and ability to quickly ramp up and down makes them a perfect complement to intermittent renewable resources, such as wind and solar, that rely on weather conditions to generate power, according to the TRi Energy Partnership. Such reactors can help the nation transition from fossil fuels, it said. The TRi Energy Partnership could be operating a reactor within seven years, and the project could be scaled up to four-reactor, 320-megawatt power plant. “We hold the future of nuclear energy in this country on our shoulders here at Energy Northwest and the Tri-Cities, along with our partners,” said Brad Sawatzke, Energy Northwest chief executive officer. Energy Northwest now operates the Northwest’s only commercial nuclear power reactor, the Columbia Generating Station, 10 miles north of Richland in Eastern Washington. The reactor, which has operated since 1984, can produce 1,207 megawatts, enough electricity to power a city the size of Seattle and its metro area. The X-energy reactor is expected to be placed at a site previously licensed when Energy Northwest, then called the Washington Public Power Supply System, or WPPSS, planned to build three nuclear reactors north of Richland. Two of the plants were canceled. The site has access to the transmission grid and utilities and has been well characterized for nuclear development, which should should speed up the environmental review and current licensing requirements, Sell said. 

New Mexico sues US nuclear commission over waste storage plan - New Mexico on Monday announced a lawsuit against the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), alleging insufficient oversight of a planned nuclear fuel storage site in the state.The facility, proposed by New Jersey-based company Holtec International, would house tons of used fuel accrued from nuclear power plants nationwide. In its complaint, the state argued the federal commission overstepped the bounds of its power and “rubber-stamped” Holtec’s proposal. The state also accused the agency of blocking challenges from institutions that objected to the proposal. “I am taking legal action because I want to mitigate dangers to our environment and to other energy sectors,” Attorney General Hector Balderas (D) said in a statement. “It is fundamentally unfair for our residents to bear the risks of open ended uncertainty.” “The NRC’s mandate does not include policy setting or altering the public debate and emphatically cheerleading nuclear industry projects. Yet it is doing both to the detriment of New Mexico,” the complaint states. The complaint also identifies what it says are numerous potential safety hazards if the facility is built. “There are at least 18 abandoned and plugged wells located on the property that could contribute to the formation of sink holes if the casing on these wells has been compromised. There is one plugged saltwater disposal well located north-cast of the property boundary that could contribute to sinkhole formation and potential subsidence,” the complaint reads. “Additionally, ground subsidence related to potash mine workings, as has been documented in the region, must be evaluated in greater detail as a potential risk to the stability of the [consolidated interim storage facility] CISF facility.” New Mexico is currently the site of the only federal underground site housing nuclear waste in Carlsbad. The Holtec proposal is for a four-decade license to build a separate facility about 35 miles away, which would house spent fuel until a permanent solution could be identified. About 83,000 metric tons of spent fuel are currently housed in temporary facilities across nearly 40 states, according to The Associated Press. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) has also vocally opposed the project, although it has drawn support from local officials in the southeastern part of the state, according to the AP.

I-95 reopened after truck carrying radioactive uranium compound crashes near Fayetteville – Interstate 95 reopened near Fayetteville about five hours after a truck carrying a radioactive uranium compound crashed. The North Carolina State Highway Patrol said the crash happened near Exit 58 (I-295) around 11:30 a.m. Wednesday. Both sides of I-95 were closed until the northbound lanes reopened just before 2 p.m. The North Carolina Department of Transportation said the southbound side reopened around 4:30 p.m. NCSHP said they don’t believe there was a threat from the material involved in the crash. Troopers also said it doesn’t appear that there is a rupture or compromise of the containers involved.

Gov. Mike DeWine signs repeal of nuclear bailout, other parts of scandal-tainted House Bill 6 - —With little fanfare, Gov. Mike DeWine signed legislation Wednesday dismantling two key parts of the corruption-ridden House Bill 6 that give billions in ratepayer dollars to energy companies.House Bill 128, which takes effect in 90 days, repeals part -- though not all -- of the law at the center of what authorities say is the largest bribery scheme in Ohio history.HB128 rescinds a $1 billion-plus financial bailout of the Perry and Davis-Besse nuclear power plants along Lake Erie.It also repeals a “decoupling” provision that allows FirstEnergy Corp. to collect a comparatively high amount of money from customers even in years when demand is down, and orders refunds for money already collected. As a result of HB128, FirstEnergy announced Wednesday it will refund customers $26 million collected under the “decoupling” policy between January 2020 and last month.The new law also revokes language from a different law making it easier for FirstEnergy to pass a state test meant to prevent utilities from making significantly excessive profits.  House Bill 6, which DeWine signed in 2019 after a contentious battle, came under even more scrutiny starting last summer, when then-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four allies were charged with using more than $60 million in FirstEnergy bribery money to secure the bill’s passage.HB128 passed the legislature with little opposition. One reason for that is that after Householder’s arrest, DeWine and a majority of state lawmakers called for the repeal of HB6. But another reason is that Energy Harbor, the former FirstEnergy subsidiary that now owns the nuclear plants, has lobbied for the option of turning down the bailout money because a federal regulatory ruling might otherwise make the subsidies a liability.During the debate over HB6, proponents of the legislation asserted that the Perry and Davis-Besse plants would close without a bailout. However, Energy Harbor has repeatedly refused to release any evidence showing that was the case. Several other parts of HB6 still remain in place, including provisions gutting Ohio’s energy-efficiency programs and renewable-energy mandates, as well as statewide subsidies for two coal plants -- one in Indiana, one in Ohio -- owned by a consortium of utility companies in the state.

Repealing subsidies to 2,176 MW of Ohio nuclear power leaves uncertainty  — Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has signed House Bill 128, ending the customer-funded subsidies for two of Energy Harbor's nuclear power plants, and leaving questions about the future of the 2,176 MW of carbon-free resources. Analysts and experts are mixed on whether replacement legislation to support the nuclear plants could emerge. DeWine signed HB 128 on March 31, which repealed key pieces of the highly controversial House Bill 6 that was tied to an alleged bribery scheme promoted by FirstEnergy and subsidiary FirstEnergy Solutions. The US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Ohio and the Federal Bureau of Investigation in July 2020 announced charges related to a more than $60 million bribe paid to Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and his associates. Householder pleaded not guilty in the case and a trial is pending. Following a bankruptcy proceeding, FirstEnergy Solutions was renamed Energy Harbor, now a private company which owns the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants that received the subsidies, as well as three other nuclear power plants located in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Former owner FirstEnergy Solutions argued financial support was required to keep Davis-Besse and Perry from retiring due to revenue shortfalls resulting from declining wholesale energy, capacity, and ancillary service market prices in the PJM Interconnection markets where the plants are located. The subsidy debate was heated, with opponents claiming the nuclear power plants did not require a financial boost. Ultimately, a referendum push to overturn the HB 6 legislation failed. "The nuclear subsidies included in HB 6 were unnecessary and unjustified, and only passed due to the alleged unprecedented corruption in the legislative process and referendum effort," Todd Snitchler, president and CEO of merchant generator trade group Electric Power Supply Association, said in an emailed statement. It is unclear if a new effort to support the nuclear plants will emerge from the Ohio Legislature. The definition of power generation units at risk of retirement is that the are not expected to recover their avoidable costs from market revenues, which are a combination of energy and ancillary service revenues and capacity market revenues, according to Monitoring Analytics, PJM's independent market monitor. Based on the IMM's analysis in its 2020 State of the Market Report for PJM, no nuclear plants are considered to be at risk of retirement. "The single site nuclear plants, Davis Besse and Perry, receive a subsidy and are not expected to retire," the IMM said in the report which was published before the subsidy was repealed. "We believe that nuclear subsidies will come back in some form," Matt Williams, power market analyst with S&P Global Platts Analytics, said in an April 1 email. "Though with how slow the legislature has been moving on this issue, specifics and timing remain uncertain," Williams added.

After financing xenophobic campaign, FirstEnergy deplores anti-Asian bigotry -There has been a terrifying surge in violence against Asians over the past year, prompting one Ohio company to take a stand on an issue it was arguably on the other side of in 2019. As Dave Anderson of the Energy and Policy institute flagged over the weekend, that’s a far cry from the tone of FirstEnergy-financed advertising during the 2019 fight over House Bill 6 — a $1.3 billion energy bailout that morphed into one of the biggest corruption scandals in Ohio history.After Gov. Mike DeWine signed the bailout law, FirstEnergy and related interests funded a furious fight to stop a citizen initiative to repeal it. Much of the campaign consisted ofbogus claims that the repeal effort was really a Chinese conspiracy to take over Ohio’s power grid. Some of the rhetoric in the million-dollar campaign might even have surpassed Trump’s.“They took our manufacturing jobs,” one spot ominously opens. “They shuttered our factories. Now they’re coming for our energy jobs. The Chinese government is quietly invading our electric grid.”As the ad makes these assertions, it flashes video of Chinese President Xi Jinping at a Communist Party function.In another ad meant to scare Ohioans from signing the petition to repeal the bailout, the FirstEnergy-funded effort again falsely linked bailout opponents to China.“Warning!” it said. “Don’t give your personal information to the Chinese government. Don’t sign their petition allowing China control over Ohio.”

Eureka Resources expanding operations in northeast Pennsylvania. – Eureka Resources, LLC, an environmental services company operating produced water treatment facilities in the Marcellus Shale region, announced the beginning of construction for phase II of its co-products warehousing and distribution facility in Standing Stone Township, Bradford County, Pa. According to the company, "This high-tech job creation project will allow Eureka Resources to continue to return fresh water to the hydrological cycle, from the hydraulic fracturing process." The Bradford County facility will streamline and centralize the distribution of extracted valuable minerals such as sodium; calcium, lithium, and chloride from natural gas wastewater from existing operations and a new facility planned in Dimock Township, Susquehanna County, Pa. “By extracting these valuable minerals from wastewater using our innovative and patented technology, we are returning clean freshwater into the hydrological cycle. This reduces water withdrawals from streams and aquifers while eliminating reliance on destructive underground injection disposal used for waste fluids” said Eureka CEO Dan Ertel. “Furthermore, the process we have pioneered in the Marcellus and Utica Shale formations assists the U.S. in reducing dependence on foreign countries for these critical minerals.” The company reports a history of DEP-monitored clean water discharge since 2014 with no violations of any kind.

Appalachian fracking faces financial risks, report warns. Hopes for petrochemical plastics boom 'unlikely.' -Developing new shale gas fields in Appalachia “may not end up being profitable” in the years ahead, according to a new report. In addition, the associated petrochemical buildout that the region has pinned its hopes on as the future of natural gas is “unlikely,” the report states.Natural gas drillers need prices to rise in order to turn a profit and continue expanding, a scenario that appears doubtful, according to the report published by the Stockholm Environment Institute’s US Center (SEI) and the Ohio River Valley Institute (ORVI), a Pennsylvania-based economic and sustainability think tank. Volatile market conditions for plastics are also putting the region’s plans for new petrochemical plants in question.Given the poor financial results from the industry over the past decade, “gas prices would need to rebound and increase” if the fortunes of Appalachia’s shale industry are to improve, study co-authors, Peter Erickson, climate policy program director at SEI, and Ploy Achakulwisut, a scientist at SEI, wrote in the report. Appalachia—already suffering from a long drawn out bust in the coal industry—has for much of the past decade seen natural gas prices languish as drillers pumped too much gas out of the ground, which has resulted in persistently low prices. And a renewed price surge appears unlikely as gas faces growing competition from solar and wind.“Now there are signs that gas itself could get passed up for lower-cost renewables, introducing new risks for communities that rely on gas extraction for employment and tax revenue,” the authors wrote.Due to liquefied natural gas (LNG) being a powerful and growing source of climate pollution, LNG’s expansion “would need to be—at best—short-lived,” the SEI/ORVI report’s authors state, noting that global decarbonization efforts could displace much of the gas demand that the industry is anticipating. At the same time, a souring market for petrochemicals—a result of the industry overbuilding capacity and an uncertain plastic consumption outlook in the future—also undercuts the need for developing a major new petrochemical hub in the region. This is much to the disappointment of various business groups, regional politicians, and even the U.S. government who had planned on this being one of the last bastions of hope for the shale gas industry.The financial performance of Appalachian shale gas drillers has been consistently poor, with the industry broadly cash flow negative since its inception in the late 2000s. After a decade-long drilling boom, production ran into a wall in late 2019 and has stagnated since. Production remains high, but the frenetic pace of drilling is long gone.

Environmental groups hail Biden's plan, but gas industry finds it lacking - Reactions to President Joe Biden’s infrastructure and jobs plan, set to be announced Wednesday afternoon in Pittsburgh, were divided, with environmental groups hailing the clean-energy aspects while energy producers said natural gas and pipelines should be bigger parts of the proposal. The American Jobs Plan, a $2 trillion infrastructure and climate-response program, offers a host of energy- and climate change-related initiatives. Citing last month’s power problems in Texas, Biden’s proposal to Congress will put $100 billion into a more resilient electrical grid and a plan to step up the conversion of the country to carbon-free electricity generation by 2035. That includes tax credits and a leveraging of private investment to construct more than 20 gigawatts of high-voltage power lines and allowing for existing rights of way to have more transmission lines while at the same time putting tax credits and investment into clean energy. It also wants to put $16 billion into plugging old and abandoned oil and gas wells and abandoned coal mines, something that has been advocated by environmentalists and others to address a growing problem in Pennsylvania and around the country. This would, the Biden administration said, put energy employees to work using their existing skills to clean up these hazards. But it was the lack of investment in pipelines that drove the energy industry’s criticism of Biden’s package. Representatives from the natural gas industry say the benefits of the shale revolution aren’t getting the recognition they deserve from Biden’s plan. Natural gas infrastructure — including pipelines, export terminals and power plants — are key parts of job creation and American national security, said Marcellus Shale Coalition President David Callahan. “Pennsylvanians understand the essential role of natural gas and support pragmatic, commonsense market-driven innovations over radical policies that will drive up energy costs, jeopardize grid reliability and eliminate good-paying jobs,” Callahan said. “As the president and Congress work toward a broad infrastructure package, let us be absolutely clear: natural gas is essential to our nation’s future prosperity and continued environmental progress.”

New NJ Bill Would Prompt PennEast Pipeline Review — Two members of Congress from New Jersey have introduced a bill to improve the review process of proposed pipeline projects. This comes after the Biden administration recently backed the PennEast Pipeline in a Supreme Court case. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D- Mercer) and Tom Malinowski (D-Hunterdon) on Wednesday announced the introduction of the Safe and Accountable Federal Energy Review for Pipelines Act of 2021. According to Watson Coleman and Malinowski, the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has for years relied on outdated private agreements to determine whether to approve future natural gas pipelines. "The current process for pipeline approval lacks the necessary oversight to protect our natural environment and ensure future generations can live on a safe and clean planet," Watson Coleman said in a statement. "The SAFER Pipelines Act will ensure the approval of future pipelines consider existing capacity as well as closely monitor the environmental impacts of new construction." Watson Coleman is a member of the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. Earlier this month, Watson Coleman and Malinowski released a statement expressing "disappointment" after the Department of Justice submitted a brief defending PennEast pipeline's efforts to seize New Jersey land for a project. Read More Here: NJ Representatives Disappointed As Biden Backs PennEast Pipeline PennEast is planning to build a 120-mile natural gas pipeline from Pennsylvania to New Jersey, cutting through Hunterdon and Mercer Counties. Malinowski said that the current approval process has "failed landowners in New Jersey."

N.J. Warns of Undermining States in Supreme Court Pipeline Case - - A win for a pipeline developer in a pending U.S. Supreme Court case would trample state sovereignty, New Jersey lawyers told the high court Wednesday. “Fundamental precepts of sovereign immunity establish that private parties cannot sue nonconsenting States. That rule extends to condemnation suits,” New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal (D) argued in the state’s brief. At issue is the proposed PennEast natural gas pipeline, a $1 billion project that would stretch more than 100 miles from Pennsylvania to New Jersey. PennEast received approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and began using eminent domain authority to seize...

Hearing on re-powering Hudson Valley gas plant draws lots of speakers— With a ruling expected inside of a year, nearly 300 speakers signed up for a web-based public hearing Wednesday afternoon on a proposal to rebuild and re-activate the Danskammer power plant along the Hudson River near here. A second hearing before the Public Service Commission’s Electric Generation Siting and the Environment also was set for Wednesday evening. Even though, the plan submitted to the Public Service Commission has been deemed to be complete, most of Wednesday’s speakers said they opposed the plant due to the pollution that an expanded larger natural-gas fired facility would emit. “We have clean energy programs on the way,” said Beth Hoeffner, an Orange County resident, referring to the state’s push, under a landmark 2019 law calling for greenhouse gas reductions in the coming decades. “The emissions will worsen climate change,” said Caroline Fenner, with Mothers Out Front, a nearby Dutchess County group. “I’m not the only person that needs clean air,” said Ann Logan, a resident of New York City’s Upper West Side. Like some others who spoke against the plant, she lived outside the plant’s immediate location in the Newburgh area. But like others, she referenced the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which lays the groundwork for a transition to green energy such as wind and solar to meet future power needs. The law calls for carbon free electricity in the state by 2040. Others noted that the plant would use fracked natural gas from out of state, even though New York has banned drilling for such gas amid fears of harming the water supply. The Danskammer plant isn’t new or closed. Dating to the 1950s and originally built to burn coal, the facility currently operates as a “peaker,” plant which is fired up during periods of peak power need, usually in summer when air conditioning use strains the grid. But owners Danskammer Energy Inc. are proposing a $500 million plan to retire its current equipment and rebuild the plant, user newer cleaner technology for a 600-megwatt capacity plant to operate on an ongoing basis. Part of that could be to fill any energy holes created by the coming shut-down of the last unit at Indian Point nuclear plant near Peekskill. They say the plant would run 60-70 percent of the time but because it would use new equipment, would offset pollution such as nitrogen oxide that older gas plants in the area currently emit.

Pieridae plans to use fracked natural gas from Pennsylvania at its proposed Goldboro LNG plant, and that's a huge problem - Halifax Examiner --Pieridae US, a Canadian States-Canada corporation, states that the U.S.-sourced natural gas will be exported to Canada at the United border near Baileyville, Maine, at the juncture of the Maritimes & Northeast (M&N) US Pipeline and the M&N Canada Pipeline (collectively, the M&N Pipeline). Pieridae US seeks to export this volume of U.S.-sourced natural gas in the Goldboro LNG Project, where the U.S.-sourced natural gas is liquefied, then re-exported as LNG from Canada by vessel to any other country with which trade is not prohibited by U.S. law or policy (non-FTA countries).  “The Pierdae Energy export plan states that it intends to take advantage of the abundance of natural gas from the Marcellus shale fracking fields in Pennsylvania,” reported Tim Faulkner for ecoRI News. “This natural gas is the main source of fuel to meet the project’s goal of exporting up to 800 million cubic feet of domestically produced natural gas per day through a new LNG facility in Nova Scotia.” To bring natural gas from Pennsylvania to Nova Scotia required connecting the Texas Eastern pipeline travelling through Pennsylvania to the M&NP pipeline via a project called “the Atlantic Bridge,” which hinges on a compression plant built in North Weymouth, Massachusetts, just south of Boston. That connection is now complete.  On its website, Pieridae has described the source gas for Goldboro in several ways, but so far as I can see, never from the US. In 2018, it said the source fuel was from Quebec and New Brunswick. By 2010, Shell Oil fields in Alberta and British Columbia were added. But again: no mention of Pennsylvania. Moreover, in a PowerPoint presentation before Canadian federal officials in which it was requesting $925 million in financing from the Canadian government, Pieridae made no mention that the money would be used, in part, to enable it to sell gas from Pennsylvania.Nova Scotia bans fracking, as does Germany. Both jurisdictions have determined that fracking simply presents too many environmental and social problems than they’re willing to enable.  Joan Baxter asked the German government about its fracking ban in relation to the government’s proposed plan to provide partial financing for the Goldboro plant:  Baxter: Although there are moratoriums on hydraulic fracturing in Germany (and in Nova Scotia, where Goldboro is to be built), it appears that at least a portion of the LNG may come from fracked sources. Given these moratoriums, why would the German state provide loan guarantees for a company that will be sourcing fracked gas? Is this not a contradiction and betrayal of German public policy?  The German Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy didn’t really answer the question:

All Eyes on Weymouth as FERC Signals Interest in Environmental Justice - Drilled News - Local activists and legislators have been fighting the Enbridge natural gas compressor in Weymouth for years. It’s too close to residents and businesses, and poses too many health risks to a community that’s already borne the burden of too much pollution, they say. The project was approved by FERC in 2019, built and became operational in 2020. Then it had an emergency shutdown. And another. Now FERC is considering the unprecedented move of re-thinking its permit, a decision that could have broad ramifications.Check out Miriam Wasser’s ongoing reporting on this at WBUR:  (audio & transcdript)

Stream crossings for Mountain Valley Pipeline become more complicated - Mountain Valley Pipeline’s path across hundreds of streams and wetlands, one of the last unfinished parts of a project long delayed by controversy, could grow even longer and more complicated. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality recently informed federal officials that it could take nearly a year to issue a water quality certification needed as part of a renewed application for water body crossings. “Based on the complexity of this project and past public controversy, we cannot reasonably issue the VWP [Virginia Water Protection] permit before December 2021 and believe it is quite likely that we could not issue this permit until early 2022,” Melanie Davenport, DEQ’s director of water permitting, wrote Thursday in a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Davenport asked the Army Corps to extend a deadline that normally falls 120 days after an application is submitted, in this case July 2. If the Army Corps were to approve the request, it would make it all but impossible for Mountain Valley to complete construction of the $6 billion project by year’s end, as it has been telling investors and the public since last November. Original plans called for work to be done by 2018, but lawsuits by environmental groups have led to multiple delays. Mountain Valley is disappointed with DEQ’s request and “continues to target a late 2021 in-service date,” spokeswoman Natalie Cox said Monday.

Virginia says it can't issue stream crossing permit for Mountain Valley Pipeline before winter -- Despite developers’ hopes of completing the Mountain Valley Pipeline by the end of 2021, Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality has told federal officials that it won’t be able to issue a new water quality permit for the project’s stream crossings before December. “Based on the complexity of this project and past public controversy, we cannot reasonably issue the (Virginia Water Protection) permit before December 2021 and we believe it is quite likely that we could not issue this permit until early 2022,” wrote DEQ Water Permitting Division Director Melanie Davenport in a March 25 letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. While Mountain Valley Pipeline previously sought to use a “blanket permit” known as Nationwide Permit 12 to authorize all stream crossings along its 303-mile length, its developers reversed course in January following legal challenges and broader uncertainty regarding the permit’s future. Under Virginia’s State Water Control Law, any natural gas pipeline that is more than 36 inches in diameter has to obtain a Virginia Water Protection Permit covering “each wetland and stream crossing” from DEQ. Mountain Valley Pipeline is 42 inches in diameter. In her letter to the corps, Davenport said that review, public comment and public hearing procedures laid out in state law would make it “impossible” for Virginia to issue the permit by the July 2 deadline set by the Army Corps. Instead, the state is requesting that it be given until March 3, 2022, to issue the permit. Mountain Valley Pipeline spokesperson Natalie Cox said that the pipeline’s in-service date of late 2021 remains in place. Once scheduled to be completed in 2018, Mountain Valley’s in-service date has been pushed back repeatedly as the project has faced intense public opposition, particularly in Virginia, numerous environmental violations and the loss of numerous permits as a result of court challenges. Another major pipeline intended to transport natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale fields to the South Atlantic region, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, was canceled by developers Dominion Energy and Duke Energy in July 2020 after delays caused costs to balloon.

"This land means a whole lot to me:" Property owners, advocates in Memphis fight to stop pipeline project - CBS News - Clyde Robinson calls a green acre of land in southwest Memphis his legacy. It's been in his family since the 1930s. "This land means a whole lot to me," he told CBS News' Adriana Diaz. The 80-year-old is among several Memphis landowners fighting to keep a crude oil pipeline from cutting through their property. Robinson and others, like Scottie Fitzgerald, said they are being robbed of their land and livelihood. "This, to me, it is hurtful. I am offended," Fitzgerald said. The two energy companies overseeing the project plan to build a pipeline about 4 feet underground. It would stretch 49 miles in order to connect two existing pipelines transporting crude oil to the Gulf Coast. The company Plains All American said the Byhalia Pipeline is "a safe, responsible way to meet the energy needs of our country" and said they're paying above market price to homeowners for access to their land. But environmental activists and many locals said the pipeline companies are pressuring mostly Black property owners to build through their land while also putting Memphis' pristine drinking water at risk of contamination. "We are facing one of the most significant environmental justice and environmentally racist projects in the country's present and history in Memphis, Tennessee," said Justin Pearson, co-founder of Memphis Community Against The Pipeline. Pearson said Memphis is the largest municipality in the country to solely rely on groundwater for its drinking water. He said the pipeline would be built in an area where there are known breaches in the clay layer. "And so there are holes where this contamination would more quickly get to our drinking water source than other places in the city or other places where they may operate pipelines. It is not true that this is safe," Pearson said.

CBS This Morning puts national spotlight on Byhalia Pipeline fight - The proposed Byhalia Pipeline fight in Memphis was featured Thursday on CBS This Morning, where opponents called the project environmental racism. Nearby landowners and activists appeared on the program talking about the impact to properties from the crude oil pipeline and its potential impact on the city’s aquifer. The company behind the controversial Byhalia Pipeline responded to that criticism, saying they’ve chosen the path with the least amount of impact on Memphis residents. They also noted that the vast majority of homeowners living on land slated to be used for the project have agreed to allow the work to happen. As proposed, the Byhalia Pipeline will run 49 miles through parts of Memphis, and Desoto and Marshall counties in Mississippi, connecting two existing crude oil pipelines. Groups in Memphis have taken issue with the project saying it primarily impacts Black neighborhoods like Boxtown and runs over the Memphis water supply. To date, several celebrities have joined the cause, including former Vice Presiden Al Gore. On Thursday, Katie Martin with Plains All American said that they have listened to members of the community and have spoken with researchers on how they can install the pipeline in a responsible way and meet the nation’s energy needs. The route was drawn so it would impact the least amount of people -often taking advantage of vacant lots. They purposefully avoided landmarks and densely populated areas, she said. Those homeowners who will be impacted have been offered a fair market value for access to the land, and to date, 97 percent have accepted their proposal. Martin said the company did not draw the line to specifically target one group or another.

Driftwood Pipeline expansion offers Haynesville enhanced market access — Driftwood Pipeline announced March 29 the start of a binding open season for its proposed Line 200 and Line 300 expansion project intended to serve growing natural gas demand along the US Gulf Coast. The project would significantly expand shippers' market access to industrial, petrochemical, power generation and LNG export demand along the Gulf Coast with interconnections to 12 existing interstate and intrastate pipelines. The project's phase 1 development would originate at a proposed interconnect with Texas Eastern Transmission near Ragley, Louisiana, moving gas 37 miles southwest to a termination point at Carlyss, Louisiana. The 42-inch diameter pipeline would transport up to 2.4 Bcf/d with service expected to begin by September 2024. The project's phase 2 development would offer additional compression, boosting capacity to a maximum 3.2 Bcf/d by its expected completion in June 2026. The final development phase would include construction of an additional 31 miles of 42-inch diameter looped pipeline, expanding the project's maximum capacity to a total of 4.6 Bcf/d with a targeted in-service date of December 2026. The Driftwood Pipeline itself remains a proposed project that would ship gas 96 miles southwest from Evangeline Parish, Louisiana to the Driftwood LNG terminal. While neither project has been sanctioned by developer, Tellurian, both projects did receive a green light from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in April 2019. Tellurian's proposed Louisiana pipeline promises to improve market access from multiple producing basins across the US but could offer the biggest advantage to producers in the nearby Haynesville shale. Along with the developer's 2 Bcf/d Haynesville Global Access Pipeline, Tellurian's proposed midstream projects in Louisiana would give Haynesville producers access to additional interstate and intrastate pipelines capable of reaching end-users across the Gulf Coast. As output from the Louisiana/Texas shale continues rebounding from last year's drilling slowdown, upcoming midstream expansions are now looking critical to the basin's future growth. Month to date, gas production from the Haynesville has averaged its highest on record at over 12.7 Bcf/d. With Enverus data showing an estimated 47 rigs currently in operation, the Haynesville is now the only US basin where drilling activity has exceeded its pre-pandemic level. According to recent forecasts from S&P Global Platts Analytics, this year's acceleration in upstream activity there could see output grow by an incremental 15% or more by late 2021.

U.S. natgas rises on record LNG exports, higher demand views (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures rose on Monday on record liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports and forecasts for slightly higher demand this week, while the possibility of an early start to the injection season partly limited gains. On their last day as the front-month, gas futures NGc1 for April delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose 2.9 cents, or 1.1%, to settle at $2.586 per million British thermal units. "Natural gas is getting a bounce partly because of increased demand expectations and concerns over the delay of LNG shipments, because of the Suez Canal," said Phil Flynn, a senior analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. "Some of the power outages we saw from Texas are ending, so we are seeing more electricity demand. So a combination of those factors are giving a little bit of support." Shipping traffic through Egypt's Suez Canal has resumed after the refloating of a giant container ship that had been blocking the busy waterway for almost a week. nL1N2LR06I nC6N2J002N Data provider Refinitiv estimated 181 heating degree days (HDDs) over the next two weeks in the Lower 48 U.S. states. The normal number for this time of year is 213 HDDs. HDDs measure the number of degrees a day's average temperature is below 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius) and are used to estimate demand to heat homes and businesses. Refinitiv projected average gas demand, including exports, would rise to 99.2 bcfd this week from 97.5 bcfd in the prior week. The amount of gas flowing to U.S. LNG export plants, meanwhile, has averaged 10.7 bcfd so far in March. That compares with a four-month low of 8.5 bcfd in February, when extreme cold cut power and gas supplies to the facilities, and puts feedgas on track to match the monthly record of 10.7 bcfd in December. nL1N2LH11V Buyers around the world continue to purchase near-record amounts of U.S. gas because prices in Europe TRNLTTFMc1 and Asia JKMc1 remain high enough to cover the cost of buying and transporting the U.S. fuel across the ocean. However, there is "market anticipation of a possible storage injection to be announced this Thursday. If so, then this year's injection season will start one week earlier than usual, which indicates a somewhat bearish news to the market", Output in the Lower 48 has averaged 91.1 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) so far in March, up sharply from a 28-month low of 86.5 bcfd in February. That, however, was still much lower than the record monthly high of 95.4 bcfd in November 2019.

May Natural Gas Futures Falter, Despite LNG Momentum - Natural Gas Intelligence - Robust U.S. export activity held at lofty levels, but natural gas futures fell again on Wednesday as traders mulled domestic demand weakness and the potential for a bearish government inventory report on Thursday. EIA storage March 26 The May Nymex contract settled at $2.608/MMBtu, down 1.5 cents day/day. It declined 3.0 cents a day earlier, its first session as the prompt month. June fell 1.4 cents on Wednesday to $2.667. NGI’s Spot Gas National Avg., however, advanced 12.0 cents to $2.450 amid a brief blast of chilly rains and cool air over the Midwest and eastern Lower 48 ahead of warmth in April. Liquefied natural gas (LNG) levels were strong throughout March, boosted by rising European demand in addition to continued Asian imports. A harsh winter in Europe depleted stockpiles, creating a need to bolster inventories with U.S. LNG ahead of the summer cooling season. LNG feed gas volumes eclipsed 11.7 Bcf on both Tuesday and Wednesday, near record levels, according to NGI data. But forecasters said that, as the weather heats up in April, customary spring maintenance projects would limit capacity at LNG facilities and eat into feed gas volumes. Rising temperatures also could push much of the Lower 48 into a multi-week period of comfortable weather conditions that minimize both heating and cooling needs, dampening demand for natural gas.

US natural gas storage injection season starts early with 14 Bcf build | S&P Global Platts - The first net injection of the year to natural gas stocks came one week earlier than normal because of the arrival of mild weather across much of the US, as the Energy Information Administration also revised the pull for the week prior down 4 Bcf. Storage inventories increased 14 Bcf to 1.764 Tcf for the week ended March 26 EIA reported the morning of April 1. The injection was below the 19 Bcf build an S&P Global Platts' survey of analysts expected. It stood in contrast to historical draws of 20 Bcf and 24 Bcf reported during the same week a year ago and the five-year average, respectively, according to EIA data. Storage volumes now stand 225 Bcf, or 11%, below the year-ago level of 1.989 Tcf and 36 Bcf, or 2%, below the five-year average of 1.8 Tcf. The report also featured a revision to the week ended March 19 from a 36 Bcf to a 32 Bcf draw because of a discrepancy in the South-Central region's non-salt storage fields. Gas demand for power generation in the Southeast and Texas averaged 11.1 Bcf/d in March, 2.2 Bcf/d below both February 2021 and March 2020, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. Despite temperatures in the region averaging 2.5 degrees above normal, the lower burns mainly were driven by a rise in wind and coal to the generation stacks of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas and SERC Reliability Corporation. In March 2020, gas accounted for 41% of ERCOT's generation stack, with wind at 26% and coal at 30%. This March, gas is down to 36% while wind and coal are up to 38% and 33%, respectively. For SERC, gas made up nearly 60% of total generation in March 2020 while coal was responsible for just 13%. This year, coal generation is up to 20%, while the gas share slid to 50%. While wind generation relies on the weather, prices mainly dictate coal and gas generation and can explain some of the higher coal burns this year versus last year. Prices at the Henry Hub in Louisiana last March averaged $1.75/MMBtu while, this March, they have averaged $2.57/MMBtu, which has encouraged more coal generation. The NYMEX Henry Hub May contract rose 2 cents to $2.63/MMBtu in trading following the release of the weekly storage report. The entire summer strip, May through October, also rose 2 cents to $2.72/MMBtu while the winter 2021-22 strip ticked up 1 cent to average $2.94/MMBtu. Platts Analytics' supply and demand model currently forecasts a 25 Bcf net injection for the week ending April 2, compared with the five-year average build of 8 Bcf. Total demand has fallen more than 1.8 Bcf/d compared with the prior week. Much of the loss was witnessed within the residential-commercial sector, which fell over 2 Bcf/d. Power burns offset some of the weakness in res-comm — with burns growing about 600 MMcf/d compared with the prior week as coal-to-gas switching accelerated. On the supply side of the ledger, US production was roughly flat The latest Platts Analytics projection has storage peaking at 3.5 Tcf in late October, which would measure more than 200 Bcf below the five-year average.

Natural Gas Futures Hop Ahead of Long Easter Weekend on EIA ‘Neutral’ Print, Lower Production -- A couple of minor surprises in the latest government storage report sparked a modest gain for natural gas futures ahead of the long Easter weekend. With a few brief cold snaps on the radar, the May contract finished Thursday’s session 3.1 cents higher day/day at $2.639. \ Spot gas prices were lower, however, amid weak holiday demand. NGI’s Spot Gas National Avg. fell 10.5 cents to $2.345. NatGasWeather said volatility was expected given the Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage report and players positioning for the three-day holiday weekend. That proved true as prices started off lower day/day, then rallied and continued to ping pong throughout much of the session. “To our view, as long as $2.58 holds on May, bulls are in control,” NatGasWeather said. The latest storage data delivered a couple of surprises and fueled the volatility. The EIA reported a net 14 Bcf injection into natural gas storage for the week ending March 26, coming in slightly below market expectations and prematurely putting an end to the withdrawal season that traditionally runs through the end of March. The EIA figure included a 4 Bcf revision for the week ending March 19 that resulted in a 32 Bcf withdrawal, rather than a 36 Bcf draw. The change occurred in the nonsalt facilities in the South Central region, where inventories reached 519 Bcf for the period. In light of the EIA revision, Bespoke Weather Services said it rated the 14 Bcf injection as a “neutral number.” The firm had projected a 22 Bcf build. Broken down by region, the South Central added a net 15 Bcf into storage, including 11 Bcf into salt facilities and 4 Bcf into nonsalts, according to EIA. Pacific stocks rose by 1 Bcf, while the East and Mountain regions each recorded no change. The Midwest continued to withdraw, pulling 4 Bcf out of inventories.

 ENERGY POLICY: Bills would push natural gas exports, restrict solar imports -- Monday, March 29, 2021 -- -- Two Republican senators introduced legislation last week to make it easier for liquid natural gas exports to secure needed permits from the Department of Energy and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Conservation groups ask Haaland to block oil drilling in Florida preserve --A coalition of conservation groups called on Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to deny requests to drill for oil in a section of the Florida Everglades in a letter Tuesday. The Burnett Oil Company has submitted two applications to the state Department of Environmental Protection seeking permits for a new oil well and the construction of an access road near the Big Cypress National Preserve.The company is also proposing a second well in the close vicinity of Miccosukee tribal lands. Although the preserve is part of the National Park System, some of the fossil fuels beneath it are privately owned.“Both proposed well sites are located in wetlands and primary Florida panther habitat. These proposed oil wells and their associated land clearing, equipment storage, wetlands filling, hydrologic alterations, staging areas, access roads, drilling rigs, storage tanks, fuel tanks, water wells, disposal wells, reserve pits, grading, erosion, sedimentation, and potential oil spills– on their face– would be detrimental to the explicit purposes of the Preserve,” the letter states. Signers of the letter include the Center for Biological Diversity, Earth Action, Sierra Club and the South Florida Audubon Society.The wells would also create emissions that threaten the preserve’s status as a vital “carbon sink,” or a reservoir that stores more carbon than it releases, the letter states. The oil company has yet to finish the mitigation process required as part of its National Park Service access permit, the letter states, and it has already done “extensive damage” during the initial phase of oil exploration.“People don’t come to a national park to see oil wells. The constant threat of oil and gas exploration in Big Cypress National Preserve jeopardizes the sensitive habitat this park provides for endangered species like the Florida Panther, as well as the one-of-a-kind park experience Big Cypress offers to so many visitors,” Cara Capp, senior Everglades program manager for National Parks Conservation Association, said in a statement.

 US government has returned all the oil it stored for companies when prices crashed last year The U.S. has returned 18.3 million barrels of oil temporarily stored in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve by energy companies that had rented space there when prices were crashing last year. Oil prices briefly turned negative last year in an unprecedented period of volatility after the economy shut down and demand dried up. On April 2, 2020, the Department of Energy said it would offer oil companies 30 million barrels of space. The agency later announced it had rented space to nine companies for 23 million barrels of crude. The government charged them rent in oil. When the announcement was made, oil was trading in the $20s per barrel, but less than three weeks later, West Texas Intermediate futures were negative by more than $37 per barrel. Under the agreement, the oil was to be removed by March 31. An Energy Department spokesperson told CNBC Tuesday that all of the oil was returned except for 1.2 million barrels paid as rent and another 1.5 million being held under a lease deal with the government of Australia. Australia purchased the oil from a company that participated in the storage program. The companies that stored oil in the reserve include Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Energy Transfer, Equinor Marketing and Trading, Mercuria Energy, MVP Holdings, Vitol, Atlantic Trading and Alon USA. The current inventory in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is 638.1 million barrels. The Energy Department expects the reserve to have 628.1 million barrels at the end of May, following a Congressionally directed sale of 10 million gallons.

Texas upstream oil and natural gas sector added 2,300 jobs in February roughly one year after industry reported 'bloodbath' - – The Texas oil and natural gas industry's upstream sector added 2,300 jobs in February, a record achievement less than nine months after it reported a “bloodbath.” According to data from the Texas Workforce Commission, the sector added 7,400 jobs since the low point in September 2020, bringing the total upstream employment in the state to 164,900 jobs. The upstream sector involves oil and natural gas extraction and excludes other industry sectors like refining, petrochemicals, fuels wholesaling, oilfield equipment manufacturing, pipelines, and gas utilities, which support several hundred thousand additional jobs. Many of those jobs pay among the highest wages in Texas. “The resilience and reliability of the Texas oil and natural gas industry is remarkable and it is the reason this industry will be essential to the energy mix for decades to come,” Todd Staples, president of the Texas Oil & Gas Association, said in a statement. After the state shut down in mid-March last year, wells closed, rigs stopped operating, and tens of thousands of workers were immediately laid off. Texas' oil output fell in March by an estimated 235,000 barrels per day, the largest monthly decline ever recorded, according to the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers. The Alliance’s benchmark Texas Petro Index (TPI) fell to 172 in April from 181.9 in March, the second largest monthly decline on record (the September to October 2015 11-point drop was the largest on record). “The Texas upstream oil and gas economy was already in a state of decline when COVID-19 came along, with drops in the number of working rigs and industry employment, but the rate of decline has obviously accelerated sharply in March and April,” Karr Ingham, an Alliance economist who created the TPI, told Natural Gas Intel last year. By last March, more than 51,000 jobs were lost after drilling companies and refineries were forced to lay off workers. By April, Philip Jordan, vice president of BW Research Partnership, told Bloomberg News, “We’re looking at anywhere between five and seven years of job growth wiped out in a month.” But by February 2021, after the state’s lockdown had ended, the sector started to show signs of life.

US oil, gas rig count rises 6 to 519 as Permian, Eagle Ford lead growth: Enverus — The US oil and gas rig count rose six to 519 in the week ended March 31, rig data provider Enverus said, as totals in the Permian Basin and Eagle Ford Shale continued to climb. The Permian, sited in West Texas/southeast New Mexico, and Eagle Ford, in South Texas, each picked up four rigs week on week for respective totals of 236 and 41, marking their highest levels in nearly a year. Since the start of 2021, the Permian has added 60 rigs and the Eagle Ford has gained 10. The increase in nationwide rig counts was attributed to the oil side, which grew by six to 393. Gas rigs were static at 126. Weekly changes in rig fleets within the largest US basins were mostly up or down a unit or unchanged, although the Williston Basin of North Dakota and Montana lost two rigs, leaving 14. The Haynesville Shale of East Texas and Northwest Louisiana gained one for a total of 48, while the SCOOP/STACK play in Oklahoma and DJ Basin of Colorado were each down a rig, leaving 18 and 13, respectively. Unchanged on week were the Marcellus Shale of largely Pennsylvania at 33 rigs, and the Utica Shale of Ohio at 12. So far this year, the total oil and gas rig count is up 113, equating to a robust average gain of about nine rigs per week. The count has increased every week save for once in mid-February, when it stood still for a week, before surging by 30.

How A Bill To Prevent Natural Gas Bans In Texas Homes Could Lead To Another Blackout | KUT Radio - The Texas House will vote Tuesday on a handful of bills related to February’s deadly blackouts. The package of legislation has been fast-tracked by lawmakers who say it will safeguard Texas against future blackouts. But among the bills is a proposal that some analysts say would actually make another blackout more likely.   House Bill 17 by Beaumont Democratic state Rep. Joe Deshotel would stop Texas cities and towns from banning natural gas hookups in new construction. The law was initially written in response to California cities banning natural gas use in buildings to fight climate change. With the support of the natural gas industry, other states have already preemptively passed laws to “ban” local natural gas “bans.” Deshotel’s legislation got a rebranding when it was included on the list of bills prioritized in response to the blackout. Earlier this month, Deshotel said "gas played an important part in helping a lot of people” during the blackout. “I know in my own home, I was able to keep things going because we had a generator that kicked on and ran on natural gas,” he said in a hearing of the House State Affairs Committee.About one-third of Texas homes use natural gas for heat, so it’s understandable to think increasing that number would keep more people warm when blackouts hit. But the opposite could be true. “This bill absolutely, unequivocally, would make the problem worse,” said Doug Lewin, energy efficiency advocate and president of the consulting firm Stoic Climate and Energy. He said that's because of the interconnectedness of electricity and natural gas in Texas. One of the causes of February’s blackout was the failure of natural gas to get to gas-fired power plants. Plant owners have testified that that lack of supply forced them to shut down their generators, adding to the power crunch. At the same time, state regulators prioritized gas delivery to residential customers. That helped people with natural gas in their homes, but took fuel away from the plants. Lewin said HB 17 would mean "locking in additional fossil fuel infrastructure [in homes] which will need fossil fuels in the next winter storm.” “Every molecule of gas going to a home is a molecule not going to a power plant,” he said, which could lead to another blackout.

Texas officials responded to the winter storm with propaganda they got from a pro-fossil fuel think tank --In February, Texas experienced an unprecedented winter storm that saw roads shut down from snowfall and millions left without power as the state's electric grid failed in freezing temperatures. The situation was so bad that the CEO of the state's grid operator said that the grid was mere minutes away from a total collapse. And yet, while the storm that killed at least 86 peoplecontinued, Texas oil and gas regulators spent their days circulating climate change denialism talking points, according to a report from NBC News.The talking points, which claimed that renewable energy sources like wind and solar power are "often useless when you need them most," originated from Alex Epstein, author of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels and the founder of the for-profit think tank the Center for Industrial Progress. Epstein, aclimate skeptic and fossil fuel fanboy, reportedly provided talking points to a number of Texas politicians via email and hosted a briefing on Zoom to which a number of state officials — including Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's chief of staff Luis Saenz — were invited. According to NBC News, talking points from Epstein landed in the inbox of a number of officials in the governor's office and at the Railroad Commission, the state's primary oil and gas industry regulator.It certainly wasn't hard to find Epstein's agenda in action. Once Texas leaders got their hands on the messaging, they ran with it. On the same day that Epstein's email hit inboxes, Railroad Commission member Wayne Christianretweeted Epstein and issued a statement warning of the "dangers of relying too heavily on unreliable, intermittent forms of electric generation like wind and solar" to meet the state's energy needs. Later that evening, Abbott appeared on Sean Hannity's Fox News show to use a deadly natural disasterto declare that "the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America."Texas officials pulled this stunt over and over again, pointing to frozen wind turbines as the supposed reason for the power outage. Despite the fact that wind makes up just 10% of the state's energy production while natural gas and coal account for 72%, and despite the fact that Texas operates largely independently from any federal regulation, Epstein pushed the following message, per NBC News: "Here's the bottom line: The root cause of the [Texas] blackouts is a national and state policy that has prioritized the adoption of unreliable wind/solar energy over reliable energy."Texas officials proved capable of regurgitating that message no problem and did so at every turn — and apparently have been for some time. NBC News reported that Epstein hosts weekly calls that Texas officials can join, and that he regularly sends climate-denying memos as part of an "Energy Talking Points" service, which gets passed around the Texas government regularly. On Feb. 22, an edition of the email with new information and praise for officials who happily spewed the previous messages landed in the inbox of the spokesperson for a Railroad Commission member, who then forwarded the message to three Texas oil and gas lobbying groups with the note, "Talking points from Alex Epstein. Not sure if y'all call in to his calls but wanted to see what he sent out today."It should come as no surprise that Texas officials are so cozy with someone so heavily invested in promoting fossil fuels. After all, Abbott himself apparently took meetings with a right-wing, anti-science meteorologist as the winter storm was about to hit. Oil is Texas's primary export, so it has a vested interest in defending the dirty-burning energy source. Still, it’s a little shocking just how brazenly they eat this shit up and how transparent they are about pushing bad information. Epstein provides talking points, officials go repeat them, and then Epstein points to these officials backing what he said as evidence that he was right all along. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Fossil Fuel Companies Took Billions in U.S. Coronavirus Relief Funds but Still Cut Nearly 60,000 Jobs - When Congress looked to prop up a tanking economy and stanch its hemorrhaging of employment as the pandemic spread last year, the oil industry was among those that sought relief. Now, a new analysis shows that dozens of fossil fuel companies received billions of dollars in tax benefits in the coronavirus relief package, but slashed tens of thousands of jobs anyway. While Congress ended up sending billions in direct loans to small and large businesses, a significant portion of CARES Act benefits came in the form of changes to the tax code. At least 77 fossil fuel companies took advantage of those to claim a total of $8.2 billion in benefits last year, even as they cut nearly 60,000 jobs, according to an analysis published Friday by BailoutWatch, a nonprofit supported by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. Chris Kuveke, a BailoutWatch analyst, said the data shows that the aid to the industry failed to deliver the benefits that Congress had intended. “These companies did not use that money they received through the CARES Act to maintain payroll,” he said.As oil prices collapsed last year, some energy companies began lobbying Congress and the federal government for various forms of relief. Occidental Petroleum, for example, enlisted its employees to send letters to members of Congress to ask that they “provide liquidity” to the energy industry,according to Bloomberg News. Among the various forms of stimulus included in the final relief package were changes to the tax code that proved beneficial to the oil industry.For example, companies for years were allowed to “carry back” their losses in one year to offset profits from previous years to get a retroactive tax refund. That allowance helped companies with volatile earnings, but it was eliminated by the 2017 tax cuts signed into law by President Donald Trump. The change was one of the few provisions of the tax overhaul that modestly increased the tax burden for corporations, even as the bill overall drastically reduced corporate taxes, said Thornton Matheson, a senior fellow at Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.The CARES Act eliminated that change, and even expanded on the original provision, allowing companies to carry any losses incurred from 2018-2020 back five years, instead of the two years allowed before the 2017 tax bill. Matheson said the oil and gas industry was among a few likely to benefit most from that part of the CARES Act, because its earnings can swing wildly with commodity prices.Thus the change allowed companies to stretch losses from 2018 back to 2013, when oil prices were above $100 a barrel and profits for some of them were sky high (prices fell sharply in late 2014, and have not fully recovered). Marathon Petroleum, a major refiner, benefited the most, the analysis found, claiming $2.1 billion in tax benefits, according to the BailoutWatch analysis. The company cut nearly 2,000 jobs last year, not counting those in its retail business.

Biden infrastructure plan would spend $16 billion to clean up old mines, oil wells - (AP) — President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion plan to transform America’s infrastructure includes $16 billion to plug old oil and gas wells and clean up abandoned mines, a longtime priority for Western and rural lawmakers from both parties. Hundreds of thousands of “orphaned” oil and gas wells and abandoned coal and hardrock mines pose serious safety hazards, while causing ongoing environmental damage. The administration sees the longstanding problem as an opportunity to create jobs and remediate pollution, including greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Biden said last week he wants to put pipefitters and miners to work capping the wells “at the same price that they would charge to dig those wells.” Many of the old wells and mines are located in rural communities that have been hard-hit by the pandemic. Biden’s plan would not only create jobs, but help reduce methane and brine leaks that pollute the air and groundwater. Methane is a powerful contributor to global warming. The Interior Department has long led efforts to cap orphaned wells — so named because no owner can be found — but does not assess user fees to cover reclamation costs. Bond requirements for well operators, when known, are often inadequate to cover full clean-up costs. Biden’s plan, which needs approval by Congress, would jump-start the well-capping effort and expand it dramatically. Similarly, the White House plan would exponentially boost an Abandoned Mine Land program run by Interior that uses fees paid by coal mining companies to reclaim coal mines abandoned before 1977. About $8 billion has been disbursed to states for mine-reclamation projects in the past four decades, but Biden’s plan would ramp up spending sharply. Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has long pushed to expand the mine-lands program, which he calls crucial to his state. “It cannot be forgotten that West Virginia coal miners powered our country to greatness,” Manchin said. While many mine lands in coal communities have been reclaimed, “there is still much more work to be done to clean up damage to the land and water in those communities,” he said. Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the top Republican on the Senate energy panel, ridiculed Biden’s overall plan as “an out-of-control socialist spending spree.” The proposal “starts with the punishing policies of the Green New Deal and builds back worse from there,”

Biden’s Recovery Plan Has an Unforeseen Consequence: More Demand For Oil  - When President Biden yesterday unveiled his $2-trillion economic recovery plan, few in his immediate circle likely thought about oil. Yet, the plan will have a positive effect on oil demand because $621 billion of the total would be used for transportation infrastructure, including lots of roads. And roads are built with asphalt. Of this $621 billion, $115 billion would be allocated for road and bridge construction, Bloomberg noted in a report, and another $16 billion has been earmarked for laid-off oilfield workers who would be tasked with plugging abandoned oil wells and securing abandoned coal mines across the country. But the biggest winner from the recovery plan could be Canadian oil sands producers in what could be seen as an ironic twist of fate after Biden canceled the Keystone XL pipeline that might have made life easier for these companies by providing a much needed additional outlet for their growing oil exports to the southern neighbor. Asphalt is made from bitumen, and bitumen is what the oil sands yield. With ambitious targets for new roads and bridges and for large-scale repair works, asphalt demand in the next few years could soar. The employment plans for paid-off oil workers are also good news for the troubled industry. Around 120,000 jobs were lost in the U.S. oil and gas industry last year due to the crash in oil demand and prices and subsequent massive downsizing of staffing levels, Rystad Energy said last month in an industry analysis. The United States, the third-biggest employer in the oil and gas sector globally, saw the number of jobs in the industry decline to around 960,000 last year, down from approximately 1,080,000 employees in 2019. 

Biden’s Latest Surprise Boost for Oil Involves Lots of Asphalt - President Joe Biden, who made clean energy a core tenet of his campaign, plans to set off one more oil-sector boom before shadows descend on fossil fuels. In a $2.25 trillion infrastructure proposal unveiled Wednesday, Biden earmarked $115 billion for roads and bridges, and another $16 billion to put laid-off oilfield laborers to work plugging abandoned wells across the nation. Those are in addition to sweeping investments in electric vehicles and renewable power, sectors more in keeping with the administration’s green tinge. 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. Instead, the president’s focus on things like expediting Covid-19 vaccinations and clamping down on reckless environmental practices have had the effect of boosting fuel demand and capping price-killing growth in domestic oil output. In the infrastructure blueprint, the biggest benefit for oil explorers and refiners would come from the expected jump in demand for asphalt to repair crumbling highways and pave new ones. Because asphalt is derived from the heaviest and most-dense material in a barrel of crude, Canada’s oil-sands producers may be the biggest winners, given their status as the source of some of the globe’s thickest petroleum. Plugging old wells and securing defunct coal mines -- some of which have been abandoned for more than a century in places like Pennsylvania -- would mean paychecks for workers thrown out of high-paying jobs during the back-to-back oil busts that kicked off in 2014. Although details remain scant on how the broad-brush plan will be implemented, the oft-opposing forces of fossil fuels and environmentalism lauded many of the measures laid out in Biden’s plan. The lobbying group that represents more than 700 oilfield service and equipment makers was also pleased with the initial scope of the plan to put hired hands of the shale patch back to work again. North American oil explorers are still recovering from last year’s historic crude crash and pledging to restrain production growth for the sake of investor-friendly measures such as dividends. Canada’s oil-sands industry was among the hardest hit sections of the industry when Covid-19 and a worldwide glut of crude crashed prices last year. Now, assuming some or all of Biden’s wish list is granted, heavy crude from Western Canada may be poised for a rebound. “The asphalt industry should be elated with Biden’s plan to upgrade 20,000 miles of roads in the U.S.,” said Charles Kemp, a senior consultant at Baker & O’Brien Inc. “However, this announcement favors heavier oil production from outside of the U.S., which contains roughly double the amount of asphalt versus the asphalt content in light crudes from U.S. domestic production.”

Line 5: Tribe seeks cultural property protection -- The discovery of a potential archaeological site in the Straits of Mackinac last fall has opened the door for a Michigan tribe to pursue a new, longshot legal strategy to stop the planned Line 5 pipeline tunnel project.The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians passed a resolution in January instructing its historic preservation office to begin compiling research for an application to classify the straits as a Traditional Cultural Property, a rarely used federal designation under the National Register of Historic Places.The status is designed to preserve places associated with often-intangible elements of a local community’s cultural history — in this case, a set of boulders arranged in apparently deliberate lines and semi-circles that might be remnants of a 10,000-year-old caribou-hunting culture.The designation would add fresh uncertainty to the future of Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline, which already faces an order from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to shut down by next month. Tribal leaders are hopeful their request will be considered under Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American ever to hold the position, but similar attempts by opponents of other pipeline projects, including the Dakota Access, have been unsuccessful.“This opens the door for us,” Andrea Pierce said of her tribe’s resolution. “It shows that we’re speaking out as our own sovereign nation. We need to make our voices heard in this political arena.”  Enbridge’s Line 5 has crossed along the bottom of the straits since 1953, carrying crude oil and natural gas liquids from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Ontario. Concerns about the safety of Line 5 in the straits were heightened in 2010 after a spill from Enbridge’s Line 6B pumped up to 1 million gallons of crude oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River.“That would not be acceptable in the Straits of Mackinac,” said Pierce, whose tribe has relied on the region’s freshwater resources for at least 1,500 years. “And that’s where I’m at. I have to protect the straits as best as I can.”

Sarnia union leader warns closing Line 5 pipeline will 'kill' his hometown - Sarnia union leader Scott Archer had a stark warning this week for Canada’s federal politicians. “Shutting down Line 5 will in affect kill my hometown … and many more places like it in Canada and the U.S.,” the business manager for Local 663 of the pipefitters’ union told a special Parliamentary committee on the economic relationship between Canada and U.S. “This is not an exaggeration,” he added during the online hearing. “It’s cold, hard fact.” Archer, along with Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley and Andrew Pilat from the Sarnia Construction Association, spoke on the final day of committee hearings on a threat by Michigan’s governor to shut down the Line 5 pipeline in May. The 68-year-old pipeline – owned by Calgary-based energy giant Enbridge – carries western oil and natural gas liquids from Superior, Wis., through Michigan to Sarnia and supplies refineries and propane distribution in Ontario, Quebec and the U.S. Midwest.   Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has revoked an easement allowing the pipeline to run along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac over concerns about the risk of spills into the Great Lakes, but Enbridge is challenging the order in U.S. federal court and says it will continue operating the pipeline. The company and state are scheduled to begin court-ordered mediation April 16, and Canadian officials have raised the possibility of using a 1977 pipeline treaty with the U.S. to keep Line 5 operating.The Sarnia area is home to three of Ontario’s four refineries, as well as chemical plants served by Line 5 and other pipelines.

Is the Line 5 tunnel a bridge to Michigan’s energy future or a bad deal?  As Canadian officials lobbied a Michigan Senate committee in March to keep the Line 5 pipeline open, Sen. Winnie Brinks grew frustrated with a conversation that, up to that point, had focused mainly on the immediate economic and safety implications of a possible shutdown. “We are at a moment of inflection on our energy future,” said Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, and will soon have no choice but to stop burning oil and other fossil fuels to power our vehicles and homes. Additional investment in the pipeline, she said, “does not seem to be the most enlightened way to go forward.” The Great Lakes region is frequently touted as one of the most climate-resilient places in the U.S., in no small part because of its enviable water resources. But climate change threatens water quality, availability, and aging water infrastructure by exposing existing vulnerabilities and creating new ones. “All of us want a lower (greenhouse gas) future,” Rocco Rossi, President & CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce said. But the transition away from the petroleum products that Line 5 carries “is not going to be overnight.” In the meantime, he said, pipelines are the safest and cleanest way to move petroleum from the Alberta tar sands in western Canada to facilities in the U.S. and eastern Canada where it’s turned into propane, jet fuel, plastics and fertilizer. The exchange highlights a sharpening focus on global climate change and economy-wide energy transitions, in a pipeline fight that began with concerns about oil spill risks in a 4-mile-wide strip of water known as the Straits of Mackinac. Against the backdrop of recent carbon neutrality pledges from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and President Joe Biden, activists have ramped up their arguments that the Canadian oil giant Enbridge Energy is threatening Michigan’s water as well as its climate future. Enbridge and its supporters have defended Line 5 as a necessary asset in the transition to clean fuels, without which energy consumers in Michigan and elsewhere would suffer. Now, as a federal judge considers whether Line 5 should shut down in May and state and federal regulators decide whether to let Enbridge replace it with a tunneled pipe deep below the straits that could keep the oil flowing for decades, they’ll grapple with an issue of global significance: Are pipelines like Line 5 a “bridge to the energy future,” as Enbridge CEO Al Monaco has said, or a climate liability that threatens Michigan’s and the world’s progress toward carbon neutrality?

Utility says Ixonia LNG facility would have saved $1.1 million — We Energies officials stated Wednesday that a liquid natural gas storage facility, proposed for location in Ixonia, could have saved Jefferson County customers $1.1 million in heating costs this year if it had been in place. We Energies, in the face of strong local opposition, has been proposing location of an LNG tank in Ixonia northeast of Hill and North Roads, with the project calling for the facility to be located on 20 acres of approximately 165 total acres that is currently farmland.

Wisconsin regulators, residents question pipeline spill Enbridge failed to report for over a year --Canadian firm Enbridge Energy waited more than a year to notify state environmental regulators of a spill of a petroleum substance stemming from one of its pipelines in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. Now, community members near the site of the release want answers, and the regulators are determining whether to take enforcement action against the company.An alarm first alerted Enbridge Energy of a release on its Line 13 pipeline on April 26, 2019, near Blackhawk Island Road. Several weeks later, Enbridge staff identified the leak was coming from a valve fitting and made permanent repairs by June 2 of that year. But, it was on July 31, 2020 — more than a year later — that Enbridge reported the leak to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.Now, the DNR is investigating the matter and is working with the company to figure out why there was a reporting delay, said Steve Martin, south central region team supervisor for the DNR’s remediation and redevelopment program."Their initial notification to us indicated a release of less than two gallons, and they indicated they were under the impression there was a five-gallon threshold. That may be part of the problem," said Martin. "But, we’re exploring that further with them to figure out why there was such a delay in the reporting."Under the state spills law, Martin said any release regardless of the amount must be reported immediately to the agency. He said DNR staff are discussing whether to pursue enforcement action against the company and what steps might be taken.

INTERIOR: 13 states urge court to halt Biden's oil leasing freeze -- Thursday, April 1, 2021 -- A coalition of 13 Republican state attorneys general are pressing a federal court to swiftly block the Biden administration's moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters.

Line 3 protesters chain themselves to downtown Duluth business - In an attempt to speak out against Enbridge's ongoing Line 3 pipeline replacement project, protesters gathered in downtown Duluth Wednesday, some chaining themselves to the doors of a building. Police were dispatched to the scene around 11:20 a.m. Two protesters involved used a bike lock to attach themselves to the outside doors of the Wells Fargo building, in an attempt to stop anyone from going inside. The protesters tell us they're against Wells Fargo's investments in the Line 3 project, which they claim could lead to environmental impacts along the route from Alberta to Superior. "We are demanding divestment today. Wells Fargo is economically invested in Tar-sands which we are against," said Rachel Sipress, who is against the Line 3 replacement project. Police told the protesters to leave and firefighters cut the protesters free from the bike locks. According to Duluth's Fire Chief Shawn Krizaj, the protest was overall peaceful and no one was hurt. "We certainly don't condone locking doors. That becomes a fire safety hazard and a public safety hazard," said Krizaj. The bank was eventually reopened to the public.

26 arrests made after Line 3 protest, including a Detroit Lakes resident --A Detroit Lakes resident was among 26 people arrested at the site of a Line 3 pipeline protest in Hubbard County on Thursday, March 25.  At 11:17 a.m. March 25, the Hubbard County Sheriff’s Office received a report of about 30 pipeline protesters standing on the side of US Highway 71 at an Enbridge pipeline crossing in Hubbard County's Lake Alice Township. Officers found numerous vehicles parked along the highway, a crowd of protesters standing on the edge of the roadway, and approximately 20-protesters on private property within the pipeline easement. A dispersal order was given to those on the highway and also to those trespassing on private property. Some individuals complied with the order as they moved their vehicles and left the area. Those that remained on the private property were locked together in a circle and were surrounding other protesters who also refused to leave. Officers from Hubbard and Beltrami counties removed the protesters and arrested them. Those charged were:

  • Christian Briones, Garland, Texas: Unlawful assembly, trespassing.
  • Micah Lott Carpenter, Arapahoe, Wyo.: Unlawful assembly, trespassing, obstructing legal process.
  • Helen Clanaugh, Duluth, Minn.: Unlawful assembly, trespassing, obstructing legal process.
  • Joshua Decker, Missoula, Mont.: Trespassing, unlawful assembly.
  • Daniel Dixon, Washington, D.C.: Trespassing, unlawful assembly.
  • Jennifer Dylkowski, Stacy, Minn.: Unlawful assembly, trespassing.
  • Anne Franklin, Arroyo Seco, N. Mex.: Unlawful assembly, trespassing, obstructing legal process.
  • Tara Houska, Minneapolis: Unlawful assembly, trespassing, obstructing legal process.
  • David Ingold, Minneapolis: Unlawful assembly, trespassing.
  • Elsa Johnson, Boulder, Colo.: Unlawful assembly, obstructing legal process, trespassing.
  • Michael Kuhn, Minneapolis: Unlawful assembly, trespassing, obstructing legal process.
  • Erik Leigh, Chisago City, Minn.: Unlawful assembly, trespassing.
  • Regan Loggans, Brooklyn, N.Y.: Obstructing legal process, trespassing, unlawful assembly.
  • Natalie Marsh, Springfield, Va.: Unlawful assembly, trespassing, obstructing legal process.
  • Shane Mcsauby, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Unlawful assembly, trespassing, obstructing legal process.
  • Joseph Meinholz, Minneapolis: Unlawful assembly, obstructing legal process, trespassing.
  • Nteboheng Mokuena, Baltimore, Md.: Public nuisance, trespassing, unlawful assembly.
  • Danika Pandilla, Monterey, Mass.: Unlawful assembly, trespassing, obstructing legal process.
  • Victor Puertas, Salt Lake City, Utah: Trespassing, unlawful assembly, obstructing legal process.
  • Avery Beattie, Red Wing, Minn.: Trespassing, unlawful assembly.
  • Savannah Romero, Tukwila, Va.: Trespassing, unlawful assembly, obstructing legal process.
  • Anna Schumacher, Detroit Lakes: Unlawful assembly, obstructing legal process, trespassing.
  • Rafael Feikema, Williamsburg, Va.: Trespassing, unlawful assembly, public nuisance.
  • Natalie Steinberg, Springfield, Va.: Unlawful assembly, trespassing.
  • Maya Stovall, Macomb, Ill.: Trespassing, unlawful assembly, public nuisance, obstructing legal process.
  • Maura Sullivan, New Orleans: Unlawful assembly, trespassing, obstructing legal process.
  • Katie Woodward, Minneapolis: Unlawful assembly, trespassing.

All the individuals that were arrested were transported to the Hubbard County Jail and are awaiting arraignment.

When an Oil Company Profits From a Pipeline Running Beneath Tribal Land Without Consent, What’s Fair Compensation? -  Tribal landowners tried for years to get fair compensation for an oil pipeline that cuts across the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota, only to see officials and the courts dismiss their concerns. But now, thanks to new leadership at the Department of Interior, the federal government is taking a fresh look at their claims. Some see it as a sign that, not only might their voices finally be heard in this case but also that a turnaround has begun in the nation’s long history of injustices toward Indigenous people. For Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara (MHA) Nation members with land allotments at Fort Berthold, an encouraging signal came earlier this month. That’s when the Department of Interior’s Acting Secretary Scott de la Vega scrapped the Trump administration’s decision to reduce a $187 million penalty assessed against the oil company that owns the Tesoro High Plains Pipeline for trespassing on the reservation for seven years after its contract lapsed. Although de la Vega’s order was issued the week before Interior Secretary Deb Haaland took office, it’s one of several recent moves by the department that oversees the nation’s mineral resources and tribal trust lands that is inspiring a new sense of hope among Indigienous peoples. Members of the nation’s 574 registered tribes are eager to see Haaland, a New Mexican from the Laguna Pueblo and the first Indigenous U.S. cabinet secretary, bring greater understanding to tribal rights and sovereignty. They hope she can help end a long history of exploitation of their land and natural resources without compensation or consultation.

 Companies to test if syrupy, biodegradable substance boosts oil output -  Two companies have teamed up to test whether sending a substance the consistency of maple syrup down oil wells will help boost production in North Dakota. The project involves combining the syrupy “biosurfactant” with water and pumping the mixture into wells. Once inside, it will reach the cracks in rock formed through the fracking process. It’s expected to reduce the attraction between rock and oil, freeing up the crude so it can be extracted. If successful, the biosurfactant could eventually be produced in North Dakota using locally sourced materials such as canola oil and sugar beets to facilitate the fermentation process necessary to create the substance. The pilot project is being funded in part by a $206,000 state grant approved by the North Dakota Industrial Commission earlier this year. The money stems from oil and gas taxes via the state’s Oil and Gas Research Program. “All the big players see this as a potentially low-cost, low-carbon footprint way of extracting more of the original oil in place in the Bakken,” said Jon Rogers, CEO of Locus Bio-Energy Solutions. Locus, an Ohio company, developed the biosurfactant and is partnering with Minot-based Creedence Energy Services to test it in North Dakota. Creedence provides chemical treatments to wells to protect against corrosion and scale buildup.

Pilot project will test method to increase oil production -(AP) — A pilot project in North Dakota is testing whether sending a substance with the consistency of maple syrup down oil wells will help increase production. The process involves combining so-called biosurfactant with water and pumping the mixture into wells where it will reach cracks in the rock formed when the oil is extracted by fracking. The goal is to reduce the attraction between rock and oil in order to recover more crude. If successful it could also benefit North Dakota farmers because materials such as canola oil and sugar beets facilitate the fermentation process necessary to create the biosurfactant. The project is being funded in part by a $206,000 state grant approved by the North Dakota Industrial Commission, The Bismarck Tribune reported. “All the big players see this as a potentially low-cost, low-carbon footprint way of extracting more of the original oil in place in the Bakken,” said Jon Rogers, CEO of The Woodlands, Texas-based Locus Bio-Energy Solutions. Locus developed the biosurfactant and is partnering with Minot-based Creedence Energy Services to test it in North Dakota. Creedence provides chemical treatments to wells to protect against corrosion and scale buildup. “We’re like the doctors and pharmacists of the oil fields,” Creedence President Kevin Black said. The companies are planning to test the biosurfactant down a handful of horizontal wells in the North Dakota oil patch, targeting those that are several years old with declining production. They also will test it down older vertical wells. In Texas, where the biosurfactant has already been tested, regulators have approved it as a means for oil companies to obtain a state tax credit. The product has been applied to more than 300 wells in various oil and gas basins across the United States.

North Dakota's mineral owners are taking oil companies to court over royalty deductions -North Dakota’s mineral owners are squaring off against oil companies in court, with a series of lawsuits that take a multi-million swing at rising — and plaintiffs say improper — royalty deductions. Among the latest of these suits is one filed on behalf of Powell Family Mineral, which seeks class action status against Slawson Exploration. It was filed by Kansas attorneys Rex Sharp and Isaac Diel with Sharp Law and North Dakota attorney Mike Montgomery with Montgomery and Pender. In the suit, plaintiffs say they signed a lease in December of 2009, and that the lease language entitles Powell Family Mineral to royalties paid “free of cost” into the pipeline. However, Slawson has been deducting expenses such as gathering and moving oil, preparing oil, and other costs that plaintiffs say violate that lease language. Slawson has been contacted for comment on this story. If any comments are received, they will be added to this story online. In addition to Sharp’s case, North Dakota attorney Josh Swanson has filed seven similar cases, all revolving around the same lease language. “This issue has been percolating for a number of years,” Swanson said. “I would say probably going back four or five years, we started getting phone calls form clients who were noticing that significant deductions were being taken from their royalties that were exponentially greater than previous deductions.” As the deductions steadily rose, Swanson said, explanations have dwindled. “We’d get an explanation that either one, didn’t make any sense, or two, what happens most of the time is, mineral owners get stonewalled and the operator just refuses to answer any questions,” Swanson said. To Swanson’s clients, the lease language is fairly clear, Swanson said. “(It’s) ‘free of cost into the pipeline,’” he said. “Our contention is free of cost means exactly that, that oil and gas companies cannot be deducting any of their costs from the mineral owners’ royalties.” The cases have triggered Chief Judge Peter Welte to send a certified question to the North Dakota Supreme Court on the matter, asking that court to rule on the lease language. A hearing for that is set for April 6. “To say it’s a significant issue and that these are significant cases is probably an understatement,” Swanson said. “There’s tens of thousands of leases with just one oil company that are impacted. So you know, figure that if you’ve got, nearly 15 or 16 oil companies that have been sued in North Dakota.”

US senators press FERC to act quickly on North Bakken gas pipeline expansion   US lawmakers from North Dakota are pressing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to act by its next monthly meeting to authorize WBI Energy Transmission's North Bakken Expansion project, contending the 60-mile, 250 MMcf/d project has potential to cut methane emissions, alongside their assertions about its economic benefits. The project, if approved, will provide incremental firm capacity from six gas processing plants to a proposed interconnect with Northern Border Pipeline Company. The senators' emphasis on the environmental footprint comes as greenhouse gas emissions of gas projects are expected to face more scrutiny at FERC under Chairman Richard Glick, who has long urged FERC to consider the climate impact of projects when it makes a public interest determination. "Providing new takeaway capacity allows domestic producers in the Bakken to increase their natural gas capture rate and reduce flaring," said Senators John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer, along with Representative Kelly Armstrong, all Republicans from North Dakota, in a March 26 letter. "Because this project would interconnect with an existing pipeline network and provide an alternative to Canadian-sourced gas, it is our understanding that the net effect on downstream greenhouse gas emissions would be negligible." WBI Energy on March 19 also pressed FERC for expedited action by April 15, building on the company's prior effort to secure a February or March FERC decision to allow time to complete construction by a November 1 in-service target. In its March 19 letter to FERC, WBI Energy said the project would assist North Dakota producers and operators in meeting state gas capture targets by providing an added outlet for gas volumes that might otherwise be flared. Most gas pipeline capacity in the region is at capacity because of an increase in associated gas production over the last several years, WBI said. Bakken production averaged 2.0 Bcf/d this winter, but S&P Global Platts Analytics expects this to decline to 1.7 Bcf/d next winter with winter-over-winter losses going forward. While the exact timeline of when the bulk of declines would occur could vary, Platts Analytics expects them to come regardless. According to the North Dakota Industrial Commission, Bakken flaring averaged 170 MMcf/d from November 2020 through January 2021. The data is lagged by a couple of months. With lower production in the basin and the start-up of Outrigger Energy II's 250 MMcf/d Bill Sanderson Gas Processing Plant any day now, flaring will likely fall in the basin regardless of this new processing and transport. WBI and the lawmakers also touched on another area of interest to Glick – whether projects have adequately demonstrated need. They noted that WBI Energy has entered into six binding precedent agreements with non-affiliated shippers for project capacity. Glick has sought more scrutiny of project need in circumstances when projects rely on contracts with affiliated shippers to demonstrate need.

33 Democrats urge Biden to shut down Dakota Access Pipeline  33 Democrats urge Biden to shut down Dakota Access Pipeline © Greg Nash A group of 33 Democratic lawmakers is asking President Biden to shut down the Dakota Access pipeline after a court left the decision about whether to do so up to the administration. The legislators wrote to Biden on Monday that he should shut down the pipeline while it faces a court-ordered environmental review. “By shutting down this illegal pipeline, you can continue to show your administration values the environment and the rights of Indigenous communities more than the profits of outdated fossil fuel industries,” they wrote. “This is a critical step towards righting the wrongs of the past and setting our nation on a path of environmental, climate, and social justice,” they added, arguing that the way in which law enforcement removed protesters from the site in 2016 was “egregious environmental racism.” A court in January ruled against a decision by the federal government that allowed for the Dakota Access’s construction, determining that the Army Corps of Engineers should have conducted an environmental impact statement before the pipeline was allowed to move forward. But for the time being, it left the decision on whether to shut down the now-operation pipeline on that ground, up to the agency. “How and on what terms the Corps will enforce its property rights is ... a matter for the Corps to consider,” the three-judge panel wrote. It was originally slated to decide on Feb. 10, but this was pushed back to April 9 at the administration’s request. The Dakota Access pipeline was completed in 2017 after former President Trump ordered for it to be revived, a reversal from when the Obama administration denied a permit for the project. The pipeline has drawn massive protests from environmentalists and tribes and have raised concerns about the risk of oil spills, with the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes challenging it in court. However, the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara (MHA) Nation recently requested a consultation on the potential shutdown, noting that the pipeline brings its oil to market. A White House spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to the The Hill’s request for comment on the letter, but in regard to a different pipeline, the spokesperson recently told The Hill that it will evaluate infrastructure proposals based on energy needs, if they will help the country reach its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 and whether they can create good-paying union jobs. Thursday's letter was led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Reps. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.), Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) and Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.).

MHA Nation seeks consultation with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on fate of Dakota Access Pipeline -Native American tribes have been the driving force behind efforts to shut down the Dakota Access pipeline, but now a Native American tribe has come forward in support of continuing its operation. Chairman Mark Fox of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation has sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers asking for single-tribe consultation on continuity of operations for the Dakota Access Pipeline. In the letter, Fox notes that half of the oil produced on the MHA’s reservation is taken to market through Dakota Access. “We seek immediate consultation on the alternatives being considered by the Corps regarding continuity of operations of the Dakota Access Pipeline or alternative delivery systems while any NEPA-related or other federal review of DAPL is conducted,” Fox wrote. Fox said the MHA nation’s interests as an oil and gas producing tribe make it unique when compared to other tribes in the region. “We insist on a one-on-one consultation before any action is taken that would adversely impact the market value of our oil and gas resources, which are held in trust on our behalf by the United States,” Fox wrote. “At a minimum, our trustee owes the MHA Nation meaningful consultation that is specific and pre-decisional.” The letter is dated March 23 and was sent to Lt. General Scott A. Spellmon, commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The letter comes as the Dakota Access pipeline nears a crucial moment. There is a court hearing on April 9 to determine whether the pipeline can continue carrying Bakken oil to Illinois while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completes additional environmental review, as ordered by Judge James Boasberg last year in April. The hearing was originally set for February, but the Biden administration requested a delay to familiarize themselves with the case. Boasberg last year vacated the easement the Corps had granted Dakota Access for its crossing under Lake Oahe. He determined that the federal government did not look closely enough at social justice aspects of the pipeline’s crossing. He also said the Corps should have conducted the lengthier Environmental Impact Statement, instead of the shorter Environmental Assessment, due to the pipeline’s controversial nature. Among items Boasberg said must be clarified in the Environmental Impact Study are how an oil spill at the Pipeline’s Lake Oahe crossing would affect the tribe’s hunting and fishing rights, and whether a spill at that crossing could disproportionately affect the tribal community, which lives on a reservation that is near the crossing. Boasberg had also ordered Dakota Access to empty itself by Aug. 5, but an appeals court found the type of injunction the judge ordered did not meet certain requirements, including that the remedy not harm public interest.

'I live with Standing Rock in my heart': Massive pipeline protest resonates 5 years later - Stuart Perkins had a steady job and was busy pursuing a career in comedy and music in the Twin Cities. But in late October, he saw a video online of law enforcement officers pulling protesters from a sweat lodge, and arresting them. “I quit my job that day, because somebody called me and said, ‘Hey, I'm going to Standing Rock, you want to ride with (me)?'“ said Perkins. “I didn't know where I was going to stay when I got there. I had money for food. I had my own bedding. I was ready to go out there and do whatever I had to do.” Perkins, 41, spent nearly the next four months at the Oceti Sakowin protest camp, near the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri rivers. Stuart Perkins, a Red Lake Nation member, arrived at the Oceti Sakowin Camp near from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in south central North Dakota in late October 2016. "Out here you see people in a different light," he said. "It's like you're out here with us risking your life. You get past that the first, second day. That's over with." "I still live with Standing Rock in my heart today,” he said recently. “It's definitely changed me for life, and it's changed me for the better." Five years ago, that small protest camp, formed near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, grew to thousands of people — and lit the spark of an international movement against the Dakota Access oil pipeline — and many pipeline projects since. For months, the Oceti Sakowin camp drew protesters from North Dakota and across the country — and its influence is still felt at pipeline and climate change protests, and in the lives of those who were there in 2016. The protest started as a tribal government challenge to a pipeline permit process it felt ignored the sovereign status of the Standing Rock Tribe, and downplayed the risk to its water supply. It later expanded to also encompass a global climate change movement.

Oil Giants Win Climate Suit as Judges Push For Political Fix -New York City suffered another setback in its effort to make Exxon Mobil Corp., BP Plc and other energy companies help cover the public costs of dealing with climate change, as a federal appeals court ruled the global problem demands political rather than legal action.The ruling Thursday by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan is a warning sign for those trying to use the courts to hold the industry responsible for a problem that could cost taxpayers trillions of dollars in coming years. Chevron Corp., Royal Dutch Shell Plc and ConocoPhillips were also sued in the case.The court said global warming “is a uniquely international concern” that requires the federal government to step in rather than judges. Only the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate domestic greenhouse gas emissions, the unanimous three-judge panel held.New York City “sidestepped” federal procedure with a state-law tort suit against the energy companies even though their commercial activity of selling fossil fuel products around the world is “admittedly legal,” U.S. Circuit Court Judge Richard Sullivanwrote for the court.“In so doing, the City effectively seeks to replace these carefully crafted frameworks –- which are the product of the political process –- with a patchwork of claims under state nuisance law,” Sullivan wrote.A lower court judge in 2018 tossed out the lawsuit on similar grounds, ruling that the federal Clean Air Act governs carbon dioxide emissions and blocks lawsuits. New York City’s press office didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.“As we’ve said from the beginning, lawsuits like New York City’s do not belong in the courts and do nothing to advance meaningful efforts that address climate change,” Exxon spokesman Casey Norton said in an email. “We support global efforts from policymakers, companies, and individuals to develop real solutions.” “Today’s unanimous opinion by a distinguished panel of judges appointed by presidents from both parties explains in clear detail why the U.S. climate tort lawsuits are meritless, applying established law as agreed upon by the Justice Department under the previous two U.S. administrations,” Chevron General Counsel R. Hewitt Pate said in a statement.

Canadian Pacific-KC Southern deal likely adds market share, not more crude by rail | S&P Global Platts — The $25 billion combination of Canadian Pacific Railway with Kansas City Southern creates the first single-path crude-by-rail gateway from Alberta to the Houston-area refining and export network, but it does not mean overall Canadian crude volumes to the US Gulf Coast are going to surge. While the combined company Canadian Pacific Kansas City may offer cheaper shipping rates for Canadian heavy oil sands when it is integrated in mid-2022, analysts said notably greater crude-by-rail volumes would only come if major oil pipelines are shuttered, such as the in-progress Line 3 Replacement project, the four-year-old Dakota Access Pipeline, and the pending Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion. The combined entity would have more efficiency in scheduling, and likely would reduce the cost of movements from Canada to the US Gulf Coast, since there would no longer be interchange fees for switching rail lines, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. "Any lowering in an offered railing rate to the Gulf Coast would not be enough to be able to compete with pipeline capacity; it just may be able to better compete with other railing volumes, such as on Canadian National," Indeed, rival Canadian National Railway currently offers the only seamless crude-by-rail route from Edmonton to the USGC. However, Canadian National only terminates in the refining hub of St. James, Louisiana. By scooping up Kansas City Southern, Canadian Pacific will offer routes to St. James and Lake Charles, Louisiana, as well Texas destinations near Houston, Beaumont and Corpus Christi. Notably, the combined Canadian Pacific Kansas City also would bank on growth by shipping more refined crude oil products into Mexico. That is expected to prove more beneficial thanks to the revised United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement trade deal. In recent years, Canadian Pacific has focused on improving oil sands crude transportation into the US, while a key source of Kansas City Southern's growth was its increased movements of refined products into Mexico. The two companies' rail networks do not overlap, and they link up, not coincidentally, in Kansas City, Missouri. The integrated company would count 20,000 miles of rail network stretching from the Alberta oil sands down past central Mexico.

 Northern Alberta pipeline leak spills estimated  100,000 litres of 'sour emulsion' - The Alberta Energy Regulator says it is responding to the release of an oil-water mixture known as 'sour emulsion' from an Accel Energy Canada line in northern Alberta (Kyle Bakx/CBC)The Alberta Energy Regulator says an oil and gas company under court protection from creditors is reporting the leak of an estimated 100,000 litres of oilfield liquids from a pipeline in northern Alberta. The provincial regulator says it is responding to the release of an oil-water mixture known as "sour emulsion" from an Accel Energy Canada line about 24 kilometres southwest of Swan Hills, reported by the company last Thursday evening. It says the pipeline has been shut down and depressurized and the company is taking steps to clean up the spill. The volume of the release is unknown at this time but is estimated to be approximately 100 m3, the AER said in a statement. "AER staff are on site to oversee the company's clean-up activities and to ensure all safety and environmental requirements are met during the response to the incident. "There are no reported impacts to the public or wildlife at this time." The AER says that PricewaterhouseCoopers Inc. has been appointed to monitor Accel while in creditor protection but the licence for the assets remains with the company. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

Venezuela wants to pay for vaccines with oil -Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on Sunday proposed that his country pay for coronavirus vaccines with oil. Maduro offered the proposal at a news conference, explaining that he hoped to use oil revenue to pay for vaccines through the World Health Organization’s COVAX mechanism, which gives vaccine access to poorer countries. “Venezuela has the oil vessels and has the customers who will buy our oil,” said Maduro, according to a report by Reuters. “We are ready and prepared for oil for vaccines, but we will not beg anyone.” Venezuela has received shipments of vaccine doses from allies Russia and China. The Venezuelan government has been in talks with the Pan American Health Organization for access of the vaccine through COVAX, but last week Venezuela said it will not accept the AstraZeneca PLC vaccine which is disturbed by COVAX, Reuters reported. The AstraZeneca vaccine saw its use suspended in a number of European countries earlier this month after reports linking it to blood clots in some patients. But health authorities in Europe have since vouched for its safe use. The AstraZeneca vaccine has not yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Venezuela has been struggling economically the last decade with plummeting oil sales as the U.S. government has imposed sanctions on it.

Research team monitors oil-eating bacteria in northeast Atlantic– An underwater observatory in the Faroe-Shetland Channel offshore northwest Scotland has detected oil-eating bacteria that could help manage future oil spills. The observatory, said to be the first of its kind in the northeast Atlantic, is in an area with a heavy oil and gas and shipping activity. The Royal Society, the Society for Applied Microbiology, and the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland are helping to fund the research. According to Dr Tony Gutierrez of Heriot-Watt University, it is unclear whether the oil-degrading bacteria provide evidence of chronic spillage, but it is a hopeful sign should blowouts or pollution arise in the area. “Oil-degrading bacteria play a vital role in cleaning up oil spills – we found them strongly enriched during the Deepwater Horizon spill, for example. These types of microbes thrive on oil as a food source.” Gutierrez and his team monitored the Faroe-Shetland channel’s water over a two-year period, at different depths and locations. “Overall, we detected a higher than usual abundance of these bacteria. They comprised about 15-20% of the total community of microbes, when quite often you find them at less than 1% abundance. “We’re not sure why this is the case – it could be due to natural seepage of oil from the seafloor, or the release of produced waters from oil rigs.” Establishing a baseline in these waters, he added, will support monitoring of the impact of future spills and the success of any future clean-up campaigns. The team now plans to extend its monitoring in the Faroe-Shetland channel, and have identified other locations for similar observatories. “Creating microbial observatories in other ocean regions at potential risk of pollution and climate change effects, like the Arctic, is one of our goals,” said Gutierrez.

Russia Oil Demand Hits Record High in U.S. Amid Rising Tensions -  The oil tankers docking at the refinery in Baytown, Texas, look exactly like many others plying the waters of the Houston Ship Channel. But stashed inside their capacious holds is an unusual cargo: Russian petroleum. The sprawling complex, which belongs to Exxon Mobil Corp., isn’t the only U.S. refinery that’s been receiving shipments of Russian oil. Chevron Corp.’s plant in Mobile, Ala., and Valero Energy Corp.’s facility in St. Charles, La., are also customers. Deprived of access to Venezuelan crude by U.S. sanctions on the regime of Nicolás Maduro, and facing reduced shipments from OPEC nations since the cartel cut output, U.S. refiners turned to Russian oil in 2020 to fill the gap. The buying spree, combined with sharply lower Saudi shipments, catapulted Russia into the position of third-largest oil supplier to the U.S. last year. The feat for the Kremlin has been the talk of the oil market, but surprisingly it hasn’t been discussed much in diplomatic circles. “Russia’s move into third place has not attracted any attention in Washington,” says Bob McNally, a former senior White House policy adviser who now runs Rapidan Energy Group, a consulting firm in Washington. America’s increasing reliance on Russian oil is at odds with U.S. energy diplomacy. For the last two years, lawmakers in Washington have been lobbying European countries to abandon Nord Stream 2, a multibillion-dollar pipeline to transport Siberian gas to Germany, fearing it will give the Kremlin further leverage over U.S. allies. (Russian gas accounted for about 45% of Europe’s natural gas imports in 2019.) Congress went as far last year as to authorize the use of sanctions against companies involved in the project. The Biden administration hasn’t indicated whether it’s considering exercising that option. More important, perhaps, the quiet surge in Russian oil imports shows that the mantra of energy independence championed by former U.S. President Trump is hollow, says Mark Finley, a former oil analyst at the CIA who’s now a fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute in Houston. Campaigning last year in Texas, Trump boasted that the U.S. was the “No. 1 energy superpower” and the country would never again have to depend on “hostile” foreign suppliers. “So much for energy dominance,” Finley says. In February of last year, the Trump administration blacklisted a trading subsidiary of state-run Rosneft, the largest Russian oil company, saying it provided a financial lifeline to Maduro’s government. But no other Russian entities were targeted, meaning U.S. companies could carry on buying Russian crude and refined products. The path for Russia to become a key oil supplier to the U.S. was paved with market savvy, luck, and the Kremlin’s proven ability to turn Washington’s policies to its favor. After years of accounting for less than 0.5% of annual U.S. imports of oil and refined products, Russia steadily increased its share over the last decade, reaching an all-time high of 7% last year, according to Bloomberg News calculations. U.S. imports from Russia averaged 538,000 barrels a day in 2020—more than the 522,000-barrel-a-day average from Saudi Arabia.

Watchdog to fine Russian Railways $429,707 for fuel oil spill in Vladimir Region - Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources estimated the damage to the environment caused by the fuel oil spill near the city of Vladimir in November last year at 32.5 mln rubles ($429,707), the agency said in a statement on its website on Monday. According to the statement, the watchdog has sent its demand for voluntary compensation for the damage to the Russian Railways company. On November 16, 2020, the cars of the freight train, which included 64 tanks with fuel oil, derailed on the Novka-1 - Terekhovitsy section of the Gorkovskaya railway. As a result of the accident, one person was killed. According to the Emergency Situations Ministry, the area of the leakage of oil products at the scene was 12,500 square meters. In December, the watchdog’s experts reported a tenfold excess of the maximum permissible concentration of oil products in soil samples taken at the scene. "Employees of the department [the interregional department of the watchdog for the Ivanovo and Vladimir regions - TASS] calculated the amount of damage done to the soil. It totals 32,454,862 rubles. By now, a demand for voluntary compensation for environmental damage has been forwarded to Russian Railways," the statement said. The watchdog’s regional department opened an administrative offense case. An order to eliminate the identified violations has been sent to the Russian Railways company. The Volga Transport Investigation Department continues to investigate the criminal case under Part 2 of Article 263 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Violation of traffic safety rules and the operation of railway transport, resulting in the death of a person by negligence).

Water samples taken from river after oil spill iIn Northwest Russia - Officials --Specialists took water samples from the Volkhov River in Novgorod region after reported oil spill, the Russian emergency ministry's representative told Sputnik on Friday. Earlier this day, the Novgorod region government reported detecting the spill of oil products on the river in the nearby city of Veliky Novgorod. The source of contamination is unknown. "Water samples have been taken from the site of the spill to identify contaminants and pollution degree," the representative said. According to him, drones will fly over the place to determine the scale of the spill. He added that the contamination, located in the backwater, has not spread downstream yet. 

Delta residents groan as oil spill hits community -- THE people of Gbaramatu Kingdom in Warri South-West Local Government Area Delta State have cried out over the ravaging oil spill from the facilities of Chevron Nigeria Limited for over six weeks They demanded the physical presence of the Managing Director of the oil firm to see things for himself and ensure honesty and transparency on the way out of the woods. In a statement signed by the Spokesman for the Kingdom, Chief Gbenekama Godspower (The Fiyewei of Gbaramatu Kingdom) and made available on Sunday, the people decried their alleged neglect by Chevron Nigeria Limited since the ranging oil spill six weeks ago. The statement read in part, “We, the women of Gbaramatu Kingdom, ranging, but not limited to Okerenkoko, Ikpokpo, Opuedebubor, Kenghangbene, Azama, Benikrukru, Kokodiagbene, Oporoza, Inikorogha, Kunukunuma, Pepeama as well as other communities, are currently protesting their ill-treatment at the hands of both Government and Chevron Nigeria Limited.” They called on government at all levels, as well as other well meaning individuals and organisations to prevail on Chevron Nigeria Ltd to do the needful regarding the oil spills, lamenting that it had grounded economic activities in the Kingdom for over six weeks.

 Libya NOC gets oil spill in Dahra under control - Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC) said Sunday an oil spill north of the country has been brought under control.In a statement posted on its Facebook page, the NOC said the leak occurred in one of the supply lines of the Dahra oil field."Technical teams were able to complete the work and halt the leak," the statement said, while the cause of the spill was not announced.According to the oil corporation, the leak did not affect production operations.Dahra oil field is one of the oldest oil fields in the country and was discovered in the late 1950s with an average daily production of 120,000 barrels.The Libyan economy suffered huge losses and continues to do so due to the oil blockades, which were described in the statement as "illegal" and which will badly affect the state's 2020-2021 budget and salary payments.Oil production has plunged by around three-quarters since forces loyal to Haftar launched a blockade. The blockade has also cut off revenue for state institutions operating across the countryAs the warring sides reached a consensus to issue a cease-fire and launch a peace process under a unity government over the past months, the blockage has also been lifted.Back in October 2020, the NOC said in a statement on Facebook that it was declaring "the ending of the blockades in the entire Libyan fields and ports as of today.""Instructions have been given to the operator, Mellitah Oil & Gas BV, to resume production in al-Feel oil field and the gradual return of Mellitah crude to its normal level in the next few days," it added.

Hundreds evacuated after Indonesian oil refinery catches fire - An oil refinery in Indonesia caught fire early Monday morning, leaving six people seriously injured and prompting the evacuation of nearly 1,000 residents. The fire, which officials said was caused by lightning, also caused damage to hundreds of houses nearby, according to The New York Times. Pertamina, the state-owned company that runs the oil refinery, released a statement that said it could not estimate when the fire could be contained. Clips of the fire show panicked residents as well as a loud explosion coming from the inferno. Authorities shared that a 61-year-old man suffered a heart attack and died during the chaos. Ifki Sukarya, a Pertamina spokesman said that four gasoline storage tanks caught on fire. Twenty-three other people suffered minor injuries, and some residents became ill due to the strong smell of the fuel. A similar accident happened at the refinery two years ago when crude oil leaked offshore, contaminating 12 miles of the West Java shoreline. Company officials announced that they will have the refinery operating within four to five days. They said there was enough gasoline on hand to supply the country.

Balongan refinery fire inflicts 400,000 barrels oil loss for Pertamina - - Some 400 thousand barrels of oil of Indonesia's state-owned oil company PT Pertamina (Persero) were lost following a major fire at the Balongan Refinery, Indramayu, West Java, on Monday, at 00:45 a.m. local time. "The production loss is estimated at around 400 thousand barrels since it cannot be supplied from the refinery," Pertamina's Logistics and Infrastructure Director, Mulyono, noted in a statement here, Monday. The company proceeded with a normal shutdown soon after the fire erupted. The Balongan Refinery is expected to be operating normally again in the next four to five days. During the termination of operations, Pertamina will supply fuel for the community from several refineries and fuel terminals, one of which is the Cilacap Refinery and the Trans Pacific Petrochemical Indotama (TPPI) Refinery. The Cilacap refinery will boost production to 300 thousand barrels and the TPPI refinery by 500 thousand barrels. Pertamina continues to probe the cause of the fire and is focused on handling the emergency situation. The company claims to have been able to localize the fire inside the bund wall by using foam to prevent the flames from spreading to other areas. Pertamina, in cooperation with the district governments of Indramayu and Cirebon, deployed 10 fire engines. The fire broke out at the T-301G tank amid torrential rains accompanied by lightning. The flames could be seen at a distance of five kilometers. Hundreds of residents, earlier evacuated to a safe place, away from the location of the fire, have now gradually begun returning to their respective homes.

Lamor and NCEC of Saudi Arabia to strengthen oil spill response capabilities in Red Sea Area - The Finnish environmental services company Lamor Corporation Ab and the National Center for Environmental Compliance (NCEC) of Saudi Arabia have concluded an agreement to strengthen the oil spill response capabilities in the Red Sea area Lamor image ORMELamor will provide a programme of services, equipment and resources that will enhance the response capabilities in the region. (Image source: Lamor Corporation) The Red Sea is one of the world’s busiest sea routes and the coastline has some absolutely pristine environments that could suffer irreparable damage in case of a major oil spill. Increasing the Kingdom's abilities to respond to incidents is a key mission of NCEC and the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture. “Signing this agreement marks an important milestone in the agency’s continuous efforts to improve the environmental protection abilities of the kingdom,” commented Ali S Alghamdi, CEO of NCEC. Lamor will provide a programme of services, equipment and resources that will enhance the response capabilities in the region. The services include assessment of the current resources, contingency planning, knowledge transfer and training of responder resources. The services include the provision of both marine and aviation assets for oil spill response duties.

  Oil rises as traders expect OPEC+ to hold output cuts (Reuters) - Oil prices rose nearly 1% on Monday after Reuters reported that Russia would support stable oil output from OPEC+ ahead of a meeting with the producer group later this week. Futures had fallen earlier in the session on news that a container ship in the Suez Canal blocking traffic for nearly a week had been refloated. Brent oil rose 41 cents to settle at $64.98 a barrel. U.S. crude rose 59 cents to settle at $61.56 a barrel. “The market is looking beyond the Suez Canal and focusing on the upcoming OPEC+ meeting, where we’re getting strong indications they’re going to rollover the output cuts,” Russia will support broadly stable oil output by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies including Russia (OPEC+) in May, while seeking a relatively small output hike for itself to meet the rising seasonal demand, according to a source familiar with Russia’s thinking. Sources told Reuters last week that they expect a decision similar to the last meeting when OPEC+ meets on April 1 to decide output policy. Russian oil and gas condensate output increased to 10.22 million barrels per day (bpd) in the period March 1-28 from 10.1 million bpd in February, two industry sources familiar with the data told Reuters, broadly in line with Moscow’s plans. At the Suez Canal, live footage on a local television station showed the ship Ever Given surrounded by tug boats moving slowly in the centre of the canal on Monday. The station, ExtraNews, said the ship was moving at a speed of 1.5 knots. However, disruptions in the global shipping industry could take weeks and possibly months to clear, top container shipping lines said. “The market will soon realize that despite the positive news, even if Ever Given leaves the Canal within days, some leftover downstream ripple effects should be expected in the meantime,” Limiting price gains, some European countries struggling with increased COVID-19 infections have tightened lockdown restrictions, and fuel demand across the continent remains weak. England’s stay-at-home lockdown order, though, ended on Monday. 

Oil Prices Fall As Bearish Sentiment Returns - Oil prices fell on Tuesday as the Suez Canal was cleared and concerns about global bottlenecks eased. Traders are now focused on the upcoming OPEC+ meeting, which most observers believe will result in an extension of cuts, and the impact of Covid-19 on oil demand in Europe. Saudi Arabia wants OPEC+ cuts extended through June. Russia, the leader of the non-OPEC group in OPEC+, favors a rollover of the alliance's oil production cuts while seeking a slight increase for itself to meet higher seasonal demand. Total and other international contractors evacuated some staff from Mozambique over the weekend as insurgents advanced to the coastal town of Palma, a hub for the country’s nascent LNG industry. Total’s $20 billion project is the largest foreign investment on the African continent but now appears to be at grave risk.   Iran and China signed a wide-ranging economic and security agreement, billed as a “strategic partnership” that will last 25 years. Details remain sparse, but the move likely paves the way for more Chinese investment in Iran’s oil sector and also open up more room for exports. The WSJ also says that the two countries could set up a joint bank that would help Iran evade U.S. sanctions. Reuters reports that Iranian oil exports are expected to continue to rise in March. . Sinopec, the largest oil refiner in Asia,announced plans to shift towards carbon neutrality by 2050, a plan that leans heavily on hydrogen.  Abu Dhabi allowed trading in its futures contract, Murban, on the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE). The move is aimed at bolstering the emirate as an international oil trading hub. President Joe Biden is including rivals Vladimir Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China among the invitees to the first big climate talks of his administration, according to the AP. The event will be held virtually April 22 and 23. Exxon and Chevron have dramatically scaled back drilling in the Permian compared to a year ago. According to Rystad, the two majors accounted for 28% of Permian drilling activity in the spring of 2020, a share that is now down to less than 5%. “We essentially hit a pause button,” said Chevron Chief Financial Officer Pierre Breber, according to Reuters.  Cheap financing and higher crude oil prices couldkick off another round of drilling in U.S. shale, despite promises to exercise restraint.

Oil drops as Suez opens, focus turns to OPEC+ output cuts - Oil prices fell on Tuesday as the Suez Canal opened up after days closed by a grounded supercarrier and focus turned to an OPEC+ meeting this week where the extension of supply curbs may be on the table amid new coronavirus pandemic lockdowns. Brent crude was down 78 cents, or 1.2%, at $64.21 per barrel. U.S. oil was off by 95 cents, or 1.5%, at $60.61 per barrel. Ships were moving through the Suez Canal again on Tuesday after tugs refloated the giant Ever Given container carrier, which had been blocking a narrow section of the passage for almost a week, causing a huge build-up of vessels around the waterway. With concerns about a shortage of physical supplies abating, the market is turning its focus to Thursday's meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies including Russia in Vienna, collectively known as OPEC+. "The Saudi-led decision to hold back more oil production will yield an extraordinarily tight oil market with global stock draws," OPEC+ will discuss whether to keep in place curbs on output that have kept millions of barrels a day off the market to support prices, a strategy that has largely worked in recent months. Saudi Arabia is prepared to accept an extension of the production cuts through June, and is also ready to prolong voluntary unilateral curbs amid the latest wave of coronavirus lockdowns, a source briefed on the matter said on Monday. Stymieing efforts to contain global supply are rising exports under the radar from OPEC member Iran to China, which is ignoring U.S. and United Nations sanctions on the country and importing higher amounts of Iranian oil, according to traders and analysts. China may receive as much as 1 million barrels a day this month in imports from Iran passed off as crude from other origins. Efforts to control the COVID-19 pandemic remain an issue. More than 127.43 million people have been reported to be infected by the novel coronavirus globally, and the death toll is approaching 3 million, according to a Reuters tally. In Europe, rising numbers in a third wave of infections are alarming authorities, with France's Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire saying "all options are on the table" to protect the public. "

Oil Prices Under Pressure As API Reports Inventory Build  - The American Petroleum Institute (API) reported a build in crude oil inventories of 3.910 million barrels for the week ending March 26.Analysts had predicted a much smaller inventory build of 107,000 barrels for the week.In the previous week, the API reported a build in oil inventories of 2.927 million barrels after analysts had predicted a build of 272,000 barrels.Oil prices were trading down on the day prior to the data release, with WTI trading down $0.96 at 2:45 p.m. EDT at $60.60, while Brent crude traded down $0.78 at $64.20 per barrel. Prices were again volatile this week, with the prospect of oil shipment delays through the previously logjammed Suez Canal and OPEC+’s JTC meeting on Tuesday, which saw its members agree to revise down its oil demand estimates for this year on the prompting of member Saudi Arabia, who indicated that the figure OPEC+ was using seemed too high. OPEC+ has not released the official oil demand figure.U.S. oil production rose to 11.0 million bpd during the week ending March 19, according to the latest data from the Energy Information Administration.The API reported a draw in gasoline inventories of 6.012 million barrels for the week ending March 26—on top of the previous week's 3.728-million-barrel barrel draw. Analysts had expected a 730,000-barrel build for the week.Distillate stocks saw an increase in inventories this week of 2.595 million barrels for the week, after last week's 246,000-barrel increase.Cushing inventory figures rose by 904,000 barrels. Post data release, at 4:34 p.m. EDT, the WTI benchmark was trading at $60.46, while Brent crude was trading at $64.02.

WTI Pumps-n-Dumps After Crude Draw Ahead Of OPEC+ Meeting  Oil prices chopped around overnight but are basically flat ahead of this morning's inventory/demand/production data. Weakness came on concerns about the market's recovery after OPEC and its allies lowered their 2021 demand growth forecast, although strong Chinese factory activities lent some support (China's manufacturing activity expanded at the quickest pace in three months in March as factories cranked up production after a brief lull during the Lunar New Year holidays).The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies, together called OPEC+, are set to meet on Thursday, to decide on output policy."Given this pessimistic outlook, it seems likely that the production quotas will be left in place for another month," said Commerzbank analyst Eugen Weinberg.OPEC oil output rose in March as higher supply from Iran countered reductions by other members under a pact with allies, a Reuters survey found, a headwind for its supply-limiting efforts if Tehran's boost is sustained.For now, focus is on US activity. API:

  • Crude +3.91mm (-1.5mm exp)
  • Cushing +904k
  • Gasoline -6.012mm (+700k exp)
  • Distillates +2.595mm (+500k exp)


  • Crude -876k (-1.5mm exp)
  • Cushing +782k
  • Gasoline -1.735mm (+700k exp)
  • Distillates +2.542mm (+500k exp)

A surprise build reported by API overnight was dismissed by the official EIA data showing a 876k barrel draw (breaking a 5 week streak of builds). Gasoline stocks drew down unexpectedly and distillates inventories rose considerably more than expected..

Oil falls on OPEC+ concerns over slow demand recovery -  Oil prices fell on Wednesday on concerns about the market's recovery after OPEC and its allies lowered their 2021 demand growth forecast, although strong Chinese factory activities lent some support. Brent crude for May, which expires on Wednesday, fell 48 cents, or 0.8%, to $63.66 per barrel. The more active Brent contract for June was down 53 cents, or 0.83%, at $63.64 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures declined $1.13, or 1.9%, to $59.52 per barrel. OPEC+ has lowered its oil demand growth forecast for this year by 300,000 barrels per day (bpd), a report from its experts panel meeting seen by Reuters showed. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies, together called OPEC+, are set to meet on Thursday, to decide on output policy. "Given this pessimistic outlook, it seems likely that the production quotas will be left in place for another month,". OPEC+ are currently curbing output by just over 7 million bpd in a bid to support prices and reduce oversupply. Saudi Arabia has added to those cuts with an additional one million bpd. "The oil market is still playing a guessing game today as to what supply policy OPEC+ will set out at tomorrow's meeting, but the $64 per barrel Brent price signals that traders expect a cautious approach from the alliance," said Rystad Energy's analyst Louise Dickson. Kuwait's Oil Minister Oil Mohammad Abdulatif al-Fares expressed "cautious optimism" on Wednesday that global oil demand will improve as COVID-19 vaccination programmes gather pace and industrial output recovers. OPEC oil output rose in March as higher supply from Iran countered reductions by other members under a pact with allies, a Reuters survey found, a headwind for its supply-limiting efforts if Tehran's boost is sustained. Meanwhile, data from the American Petroleum Institute showed a bigger than expected build in U.S. crude stocks. Traders will be eying data later on Wednesday from the U.S. Energy Information (EIA) for further guidance. Oil prices found some support as China's manufacturing activity expanded at the quickest pace in three months in March as factories cranked up production after a brief lull during the Lunar New Year holidays.

Oil Futures Decline As France Locks Down  -- Oil fell the most in roughly a week after France announced it will start a month-long lockdown, while OPEC+ voiced its concerns about the strength of oil demand ahead of an expected decision this week on output. Futures in New York fell 2.3% on Wednesday to the lowest in nearly a week, with French President Emmanuel Macron saying the pandemic is more dangerous than it was in the fall in his address to the nation. The deteriorating near-term demand picture in Europe offset a surprise oil supply draw in the U.S. and other bullish signals pointing toward rising demand as more Americans are vaccinated. “The news out of France is very troubling for the petroleum complex,” “The Covid situation worsening, particularly in Europe, represents a demand hit again, and it’s weighing on prices.” Meanwhile, an OPEC+ panel meeting ended without a policy recommendation ahead of Thursday’s talks where the producer group will decide on production going forward. The OPEC+ alliance is debating whether to revive part of the 8 million barrels of daily output -- about 8% of global supply -- they’re withholding. OPEC Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo pointed to the oil market’s recent volatility as “a reminder of the fragility facing economies and oil demand.” “The balance of risks suggests OPEC will steer toward the cautious outcome, delivering sharp deficits and continue to tighten energy markets at a fast clip,” TD Securities commodity strategists led by Bart Melek said in a note. Figures from the Energy Information Administration paint the U.S. as a bright spot for demand recovery. U.S. refineries are processing crude at the highest rate in a year. In other parts of the world, the trajectory for fuel consumption remains muddled as evidenced by France’s renewed nationwide lockdown. The demand numbers in the U.S. “were huge and we continue to see improvements there,”. “It’s pretty consensus to think that gasoline will be strong and jet fuel will be the laggard,” but there’s been positive signs “even on the jet fuel side.” West Texas Intermediate for May delivery fell $1.39 to settle at $59.16 a barrel, posting the largest daily loss since March 25. Brent for May settlement slipped 60 cents to $63.54 a barrel ahead of the contract’s expiry later on Wednesday. Brent for June delivery lost $1.43 to $62.74 a barrel. Separately, Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil giant, is expected to raise its Arab Light official selling price for May supplies by 30 cents a barrel, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of refiners and traders. That’s despite continued flows of Iranian crude into China, and challenging conditions for many Asian refiners.

Oil gains ahead of OPEC+ meeting on output policy Crude prices rose on Thursday, recouping some of the previous session's losses on expectations that a meeting of OPEC and its allies later on Thursday would yield output constraint- in the face of resurgent COVID-19 infections in some regions. Brent crude for June delivery was up by 16 cents, or 0.18%, at $62.85 a barrel after falling 2.2% overnight. U.S. oil was up 18 cents, or 0.16%, at $62.86 a barrel, having dropped 2.3% on Wednesday. Ministers from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies including Russia and Kazakhstan, a group called OPEC+, meet later on Thursday to consider options that include an output roll-over and a gradual output increase. "The most likely outcome of the ... meeting is no significant changes in production," Eurasia Group said in a report on the gathering. "The caution on display in the OPEC+ discussions signals that any decisions on tapering will likely be delayed to the May meeting," Eurasia said, referring to the gradual supply of withheld production to the market. A lowering of the OPEC+ oil demand growth forecast for this year by 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) also weighed on prices and made it more likely the meeting would result in continued restraint. On Wednesday, the Joint Technical Committee, which advises the group of oil-producing nations that includes Saudi Arabia and Russia, made no formal recommendation, three OPEC+ sources said. OPEC+ is currently curbing output by just over 7 million bpd to support prices and reduce oversupply. Saudi Arabia has added to those cuts with a further 1 million bpd. The cuts came after the novel coronavirus outbreak turned into the biggest global health crisis in a century and led to the evisceration of demand for oil and fuel. Recovery has been intermittent as outbreak after outbreak of coronavirus infections leads to more lockdown measures. France President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday put his country into a third lockdown and said schools would close for three weeks to cope with a third wave of COVID-19 infections that threatens to overwhelm hospitals.

Oil settles over 3% higher as OPEC+ officially announces plan to gradually lift output   Oil futures gained more than 3% on Thursday after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies officially announced an agreement to gradually lift output starting in May.The group of producers, together known as OPEC+ announced that (link) they approved an adjustment to the production levels for May, June and July.During a press conference, Saudi Arabia's Minister of Energy Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said OPEC+ will raise daily oil production by 350,000 barrels in May, 350,000 barrels in June and by 441,000 barrels in July.He also said Saudi Arabia will gradually roll back the voluntary 1 million-barrel per day cut it's had in place since January, easing the per-day reduction by 250,000 barrels in May, by 350,000 barrels in June and by 400,000 barrels in July.Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at The Price Futures Group said that he expected producers to raise production levels, but "did not expect that they would announce it now, especially after lowering the demand outlook.""While OPEC is acknowledging that the world will need more oil as the U.S. reopens, the increases they are talking about are very modest so if demand bounces back, the market will still be tight," he said. West Texas Intermediate crude for May delivery rose $2.29, or 3.9%, to settle at $61.45 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after trading as high as $61.75 in the wake of the producers' decision. June Brent crude , the global benchmark, added $2.12, or 3.4%, at $64.86 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe, after taping an intraday high of $65.For the week, based on the front-month contracts, WTI prices rose 0.8% and Brent crude climbed 0.7%, according to Dow Jones Market Data.Both crude benchmarks ended Wednesday with a monthly loss of close to 4%. In opening remarks at the OPEC+ meeting Thursday (link), Prince Abdulaziz said that "the reality remains that the global picture is far from even, and the recovery is far from complete.""On the supply side, we have continued to play our part," he said. "Compliance with the levels we agreed has -- once again -- been impressive," with new aggregate levels set at 113%. But "we have to approach the coming weeks with the same admirable commitment.""Until evidence of the recovery is undeniable, we should maintain this cautious stance," Prince Abdulaziz said. U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm late Wednesday tweeted that she had talked with Prince Abdulaziz and had "reaffirmed the importance of international cooperation to ensure affordable and reliable sources of energy for consumers."(link)

Oil settles up more than $2 despite OPEC+ production cuts  — Oil prices settled up more than $2 Thursday despite news that OPEC+ reached a deal to gradually ease production cuts from May. Brent crude settled up $2.12, or 3.4%, to $64.86 a barrel. U.S. oil settled up $2.29, or 3.9%, at $61.45 a barrel. OPEC+, which comprises the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and other allied producers, agreed to ease production curbs by 350,000 barrels per day (bpd) in May, another 350,000 bpd in June and further 400,000 bpd or so in July. “Ironically, the market has bought the OPEC+ story that demand will increase and the barrels will be needed, despite multiple calls by OPEC for caution in the days leading up to the meeting,” said Bob Yawger, director of energy futures at Mizuho. Under Thursday’s deal, cuts implemented by OPEC+ would be just above 6.5 million bpd from May. OPEC+ had cut output by nearly 7 million bpd, and Saudi Arabia made an extra 1 million bpd voluntary output cut. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said in the meeting that he expected global oil demand to grow by 5-5.5 million barrels per day (bpd) this year. Novak said he hoped global oil inventories, a key parameter for the oil industry, would return to their normal level in two to three months. However, Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said the market’s recovery was “far from complete.” The Saudi state news agency reported that he and his U.S. counterpart Jennifer Granholm spoke on the phone and agreed to work to enforce cooperation in the energy field. OPEC+ has trimmed its oil demand growth forecast for this year by 300,000 bpd because of renewed lockdowns. France entered its third national lockdown and schools closed for three weeks to try to contain a third wave of COVID-19 infections. Still, European markets have recovered most of their pandemic-driven losses on strong manufacturing activity. March data showed euro zone factory activity growth galloped at its fastest pace in the history of the survey. Oil found some support after U.S. President Joe Biden outlined a $2.3 trillion spending plan to invest in traditional projects, such as roads and bridges, alongside tackling climate change. Oil prices were pressured by an unexpected rise in U.S. claims for unemployment benefits. But prices drew support from a U.S. Energy Information Administration report that domestic crude stocks fell unexpectedly last week.

Oil Futures Settle Nearly 4% Higher - Crude oil prices moved sharply higher on Thursday, supported by news that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and their allies, including Russia and Kazakhstan, have agreed to incremental increases in crude production for three months starting in May. West Texas Intermediate Crude oil futures for May ended higher by $2.29 or about 3.9% at $61.45 a barrel. Brent crude futures were up $1.93 or 3.1% at $64.67 a barrel. Investors were also reacting to the EIA inventory data and the announcement of U.S. President Joe Biden's vast infrastructure plan that includes investments in roads, railways, broadband, clean energy and semiconductor manufacturing. Saudi Arabia's Minister of Energy Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said in a press conference that OPEC+ will raise daily oil production by 350,000 barrels in May, 350,000 barrels in June and by 441,000 barrels in July. Traders were also weighing the data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration that said domestic supplies of natural gas rose by 14 billion cubic feet for the week ended March 26. That compares with an average increase of 19 billion cubic feet forecast by analysts polled by S&P Global Platts.

Bucking US threats, China and Iran sign 25-year treaty - This weekend, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi traveled to Tehran and signed a 25-year treaty with his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif. The terms of the treaty were not disclosed. However, US news outlets noted that an earlier draft of the treaty, obtained by US officials and shown to the New York Times, entailed $400 billion in Chinese investment in Iran in exchange for exports of Iranian oil, as well as a strategic alliance. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, pose for photos after the ceremony of signing documents, in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, March 27, 2021. Iran and China on Saturday signed a 25-year strategic cooperation agreement addressing economic issues amid crippling U.S. sanctions on Iran, state TV reported. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi) Beijing is defying economic sanctions imposed by former US President Donald Trump after he unilaterally scrapped the 2015 Iranian nuclear treaty in 2018, and that incoming US President Joe Biden has yet to remove. In February, Biden suddenly bombed an Iranian-backed militia in Syria, killing at least 17 people. Beijing’s decision to sign the treaty with Tehran followed a disastrous US-China summit earlier this month in Alaska. During remarks to the press before summit proceedings even began, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken publicly lectured Wang that China must accept a “rules-based international order” set by Washington, or face “a far more violent and unstable world.” Afterwards, US Pacific Fleet commander Admiral John Aquilino threatened that a US war with China over Taiwan “is much closer to us than most think.” By signing a treaty with Tehran, Beijing is signaling that it has concluded that it must make its own preparations against a Biden administration that will be aggressive and relentlessly hostile. It is no doubt confirmed in this view by continuing, groundless war propaganda from US politicians, debunked by scientists, alleging that COVID-19 was manufactured in a Chinese lab. At the Anchorage conference, Wang replied to Blinken by contrasting China’s commitment to international law with US imperialism’s foreign policy in the Middle East. “We do not believe in invading through the use of force, or to topple other regimes through various means, or to massacre the people of other countries because all of those would only cause turmoil and instability in this world. And at the end of the day, all of those would not serve the United States well.”

China's strong factory growth in March bolsters economic recovery (Reuters) -China’s manufacturing activity expanded at the quickest pace in three months in March as factories cranked up production after a brief lull during the Lunar New Year holidays, with improving global demand adding further momentum to a solid economic recovery. The official manufacturing Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI) rose to 51.9 from 50.6 in February, data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed on Wednesday, remaining above the 50-point mark that separates growth from contraction for the 13th straight month. Analysts had expected it to rise to 51.0. “The latest official PMI surveys suggest that after being hit by virus disruptions earlier in the year, growth bounced back strongly this month,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, senior China economist at Capital Economics, in a note to clients after the data release. Chinese factory activity normally goes dormant during the Lunar New Year break, but this year millions of workers stayed put due to COVID-19 fears, which led to an earlier-than-usual resumption of business at factories. Authorities successfully curbed the domestic transmission of COVID-19 virus during the winter, leading to quarantine restrictions and testing requirements being scaled back as life once again returns to normal. The official PMI, which largely focuses on big and state-owned firms, showed both the sub-indexes for production and new orders stood at the highest level since December.

Traffic in Suez Canal resumes after stranded ship refloated  -(Reuters) - Egypt’s Suez Canal will reopen for shipping traffic in both directions on Monday evening after a giant container ship which had been blocking the busy waterway for almost a week was refloated, with more than 400 ships waiting to pass through. The Suez Canal Authority’s chairman Osama Rabie said the channel was navigable after the 400-metre (430-yard) long vessel Ever Given was freed undamaged earlier on Monday. “The ship came out intact and it has no problems. We’ve just searched the bottom and soil of the Suez Canal and thankfully it is sound and has no issues, and ships will pass through it today,” he told Nile TV. The authority informed shipping agencies that convoys of ships will resume running both ways through the canal from 7 p.m. (1700 GMT), two agents told Reuters. The Ever Given had become jammed diagonally across a southern section of the canal in high winds early last Tuesday, halting traffic on the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia. Live footage on a local television station showed the ship surrounded by tug boats moving slowly in the centre of the canal on Monday afternoon. The station, ExtraNews, said the ship was moving at a speed of 1.5 knots. After dredging and excavation work over the weekend, rescue workers from the SCA and a team from Dutch firm Smit Salvage had succeeded in partially refloating the ship earlier on Monday. “The time pressure to complete this operation was evident and unprecedented,” said Peter Berdowski, CEO of Smit Salvage owner Boskalis, after the Ever Given was refloated. The company said approximately 30,000 cubic metres of sand was dredged to refloat the 224,000-ton container ship and a total of 11 tugs and two powerful sea tugs were used to pull the ship off.

 The Ever Given is sitting in an artificial lake off the Suez Canal while experts work out if it is fit to sail, and what to do with the 20,000 containers on board The recently freed container ship Ever Given is waiting in a lake off the Suez Canal, where authorities are inspecting it for seaworthiness. The Ever Given, a 220,000-ton, 1,300-foot-long ship, was freed Monday after being grounded in the Suez Canal for six days, blocking the crucial maritime route. Following its release — thanks to tugboats and dredgers working night and day — it was moved to the Great Bitter Lake, a large body of water that divides the canal into two sections. The company that leases the ship, Evergreen, wrote in a statement Monday that the vessel would be inspected to see whether it could continue its originally planned journey to Rotterdam, in the Netherlands. The Ever Given is capable of carrying 20,000 containers and was fully laden when it got stuck. According to Lt. Gen. Osama Rabie, the head of the Suez Canal Authority, none of them were damaged, Reuters reported. "The ship was ready for limited navigation after an initial inspection and not a single container was damaged, but a second investigation will be more precise, and if it was affected, it will show," Rabie said. If the Ever Given cannot sail on, it is unclear what happens next. Transferring its cargo would most likely be an extremely laborious process.

Egypt could ask for up to $1 billion in compensation for Ever Given crisis — Egyptian authorities may seek over $1 billion in damages for helping to clear the Ever Given from the Suez Canal, as a dilemma emerges over who might foot the bill. "We will reach over a billion dollars in compensation," Osama Rabie, the chairman and managing director of the state-owned Suez Canal Authority, told Egypt's Sada El Balad channel on Wednesday evening. Rabie said the figure is based on canal revenue losses, the cost of equipment and machinery, and the manpower hours for the 800 rescuers who freed the ship. "We will ask for a fair amount," Rabie said, according to a NBC News translation, without specifying who might be liable to pay. "We saved them so much by rescuing the ship without any major damage or losses," he added. "The whole ship could've been lost." The 200,000 ton mega-container carrier was successfully refloated on Monday, six days after coming stuck sideways in the Suez Canal. The incident sparked a crisis in international shipping, held up $9 billion in global trade a day and left 422 vessels carrying everything from crude oil to cattle waiting to pass. Authorities said the backlog would be cleared by Saturday, but the maritime traffic jam could have long lasting repercussions on ports and supply chains worldwide. Rabie said he hoped a compensation agreement could be reached "in two or three days" and if not, Egypt might hold the ship in the Great Bitter Lake, north of the Suez Canal, where it is currently undergoing maintenance checks. "We could agree on a certain compensation, or it goes to court," he said. "If they decide to go to court, then the ship should be held," he warned.

 Australia: Queensland capital city enters lockdown - For the second time this year, the Australian city of Brisbane has been placed under a three-day lockdown, amid the discovery of thirteen community cases of the COVID B117 variant. Referred to as the “UK” variant, the B117 mutant spreads seventy percent more readily than the original virus. Concerns have been raised that this outbreak may be far larger than is presently known. The first case was identified last Friday. The infection of the 26-year-old man, from the working class suburb of Stafford, was linked via genomic testing of viral samples to an outbreak that occurred two weeks earlier at the Princess Alexandra, a major public hospital in Brisbane. That outbreak, which involved a doctor contracting the virus from an overseas quarantine patient, did not then lead to any lockdown measures, despite the doctor having moved around the community while infectious. B117 was responsible for the massive January resurgence of the pandemic in the UK and Western Europe, which has killed tens of thousands. A second cluster was announced Tuesday, related to a nurse at the Princess Alexandra contracting the B117 variant from a quarantine patient arriving from India. She and her sister travelled to Byron Bay, a popular tourist destination in New South Wales, with five cases, all originating from the infected nurse, resulting from a house party held there. In a sign that the outbreak has likely spread beyond Brisbane, six of the new cases had visited other parts of the country while infectious, including the five in Byron Bay, and also Gladstone, a mining town in northern Queensland. An additional case may be present in the Queensland town of Hervey Bay. Despite a high risk of community transmission, similar to that of Brisbane, no lockdown measures have been instituted in those areas. As with an earlier Brisbane outbreak in January, and cases that have previously emerged in Perth, Sydney, and multiple times in Melbourne, the failure of the quarantine system for international arrivals is largely to blame. A highly privatized and uncoordinated system, run out of poorly ventilated and inadequately equipped hotels, and staffed by untrained and exploited workers, “hotel quarantine” has proven unable to deal with the increasing virulence of new COVID strains, originating not only from the UK, but also from South Africa and Russia. The number of quarantined cases has risen from 5 last month to 78, only increasing the risk of a breach.

 Australia population declines for first time since World War I -- The number of people in Australia declined in the September quarter last year, the first such occurrence since before 1916. Estimates released last week by the Australia Bureau of Statistics revealed that the country’s population dropped by 4,239 to 25,693,059 in the three months to September 2020. By comparison, in the 19 years to March 2020, Australia’s population grew by an average of 84,165 each quarter. Population growth is typically second-highest in the September quarter, so the year-on-year decline was actually higher, at 111,022. The Centre for Population, established in 2019 under the treasury department, predicts that the nation’s population will grow by just 0.2 percent in the year to July 2021, a dramatic reduction from the annual average of 1.7 percent over the last decade. The immediate cause is the dramatic reduction in immigration as a result of COVID-19 border restrictions. But “natural increase,” defined as the difference between the number of births and the number of deaths in a given period, also fell over the quarter, continuing a decline that has been underway since 2012. Immigration has been the primary driver of Australia’s increasing population for most of the last 20 years and was the source of 64 percent of the country’s growth in the year to March 2020.

IMF chief warns of debt crisis for developing countries The International Monetary Fund has warned that lower-income countries face a debt sustainability crisis as interest rates on bonds start to rise. IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva delivered a speech this week at a virtual meeting, ahead of the spring meetings of the IMF and the World Bank. She said tightening financial conditions resulting from stronger economic growth in the US “could cause a rapid rise in interest rates… and significant capital outflow from emerging and developing economies.” Such a development “would pose major challenges especially to middle-income countries with large external financing needs and elevated debt levels.” The IMF warning follows similar statements from the UN secretary-general António Guterres. In an interview with the Financial Times this week, he said the world faced severe problems of debt sustainability in the wake of the coronavirus crisis that had not been properly understood or addressed. He said the response to COVID-19 and to the financial aspects of the crisis “has been fragmented and geopolitical divides are not helping. It has been too limited in scope and too late.” Guterres said the fact that only six countries—Argentina, Belize, Ecuador, Lebanon, Suriname and Zambia—had so far defaulted on their debts created the “illusion” of stability and a “misperception of the seriousness of the situation.” In failing to address debt sustainability, “the risk is that we compromise the recovery of the economies of the developing world with catastrophic consequences for people’s lives, with an increase in hunger and poverty and dramatic problems with health and education systems, in many cases leading to instability, social unrest and, at the limit, conflict. Everything is now interlinked.” In her remarks, Georgieva said the IMF would upgrade its forecast for global growth from the level of 5.5 percent it had predicted in January as a result of the stimulus measures in the US and fiscal action by other governments. But she said while the overall outlook had improved “prospects are diverging dangerously not only within nations but also across countries and regions.” Compared to pre-COVID projections the cumulative loss in per capita income for advanced economies will be 11 percent by next year. But for emerging and developing economies, excluding China, the loss will be much worse, coming in at 20 percent. “This loss of income means millions of people will face destitution, homelessness, and hunger,” she said.

Tourism in Antigua and Barbuda Is Sending Covid Skyrocketing --In the twin-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, tourism is responsible for up to 60% of the GDP. According to Prime Minister Gaston Browne, the pandemic resulted in an 18% loss to the country’s GDP in 2020, and sent unemployment from single digits to more than 30%. And while Browne reopened international borders in June, it took until the end of 2020—when a rash of bookings offered the first meaningful glimpse of tourism recovery—for the consequences to crystallize. Throughout 2020, Antigua and Barbuda’s population of 100,000 saw just 159 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and five related deaths, giving the islands of 365 beaches the appearance of a save haven. Those numbers meant that only 1 out of every 629 residents ever developed the infection in 2020; during the peak of the second wave in July, it would have taken Miami just three days to achieve roughly the same levels of virality across its population of six million.As a result, nearly 15,000 travelers flew or boated to Antigua and Barbuda in December, more than doubling numbers from the month before. (Antigua is a convenient haven for east coast Americans, many of whom can get there via direct flights.) That began a wave of sustained tourism larger than any other throughout the pandemic.But as more visitors arrived, so did the cases of Covid-19. Confirmed positives multiplied nearly sevenfold in 2021, reaching 1,103 as of March 25. Deaths rose to 28. As a result, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention increased its risk assessment for the country from Level 2 (moderate) to Level 4 (very high) at the beginning of March. That’s forced Browne and his government to reckon with how closely connected international travel has been to the public health crisis—and to uncover that not all forms of travel are equally problematic.  Their findings could take on new urgency as travel professionals are recommending Caribbean trips to clients—newly vaccinated and otherwise—not just for the remainder of the spring season, but even into the typically low-season summer months.

In Brazil, political crisis overshadows Covid-19 - Brazil reported yet another record number of deaths on Tuesday as a surge of Covid-19 infections cripples hospitals across the country. But it's the political turmoil rocking the government that grabbed headlines on Wednesday. A day after the biggest Cabinet reshuffle since President Jair Bolsonaro took office, the three commanders of Brazil's armed forces were squeezed out, fueling speculation that Bolsonaro is losing the support of the military and seeking to assert control, amid growing criticism over his handling of the pandemic. "The Military Refuses Political Affiliation and Bolsonaro Replaces the Heads of the Armed Forces," declared O Globo newspaper. In its headline, Folha de S. Paulo called it the "biggest military crisis since 1977," when there was a similar institutional rift during the military dictatorship. The military departures have been particularly scrutinized because Bolsonaro, a former captain, has made much of his ties to the armed forces, filling his cabinet with generals and even celebrating the military dictatorship that once ruled the country. Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, a retired Army general and former senior member of Bolsonaro's administration, told CNN affiliate CNN Brasil that while ministerial changes are normal, "it is not normal to replace the three commanders of the armed forces without a reason, an explanation or any information given to society." The political crisis comes as Brazil struggles to control the latest and most deadly Covid-19 surge to date. A record 3,780 people died on Tuesday, with ICU occupation at over 90% in 14 of Brazil's 26 states. Brazilians have increasingly taken their anger out on Bolsonaro, who has downplayed the virus from the beginning.

 COVID-19 pandemic triggers social, economic devastation among Canada’s cultural workers - Workers in Canada’s arts and culture sector were some of the country’s most vulnerable, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, 450,000 workers laboured to produce music, live theatre, film, television, dance, radio and the visual arts, in many instances for poverty wages and with zero job security. Their average annual income was $32,400 [US$25,776]. The “gig economy” model itself originated to a considerable extent in the performing arts.The pandemic and the refusal of governments at all levels to provide adequate support to the cultural sector have led to the destruction of at least 25 percent of these jobs, according to the Canadian Association for the Performing Arts. Those who remain “employed” are dramatically underemployed, with hours worked in the arts and related industries having plunged by 48.8 percent compared to 2019. These shocking figures in fact understate the crisis, since statistical surveys consider people to be “employed” if they have worked one hour in a month.A survey of the performing arts conducted by Hill Strategies found that 83 percent of workers reported their income had been “severely reduced” by the pandemic. Forty percent reported being “very stressed,” while 32 percent said they were “extremely stressed, to the point of losing sleep.” The survey found that respondents had lost an average of $25,000 of income per year, or 83 percent of average arts income in 2019. In 2019, arts and culture produced 2.7 percent of Canada’s GDP, or $58 billion, which equates to $121,848 for each cultural worker. But this contribution fell by 46 percent from September 2019 to September 2020. As a whole, the Canadian economy declined by 3.9 percent during the same period. Canadian artists are experiencing an unprecedented catastrophe as a result. Before the pandemic, 1.8 percent of the Canadian labour force was employed in the arts. While a small segment of workers, the contribution of these workers to the cultural life in Canada and internationally is immense. Canadian artists produce music in all genres, from rock and pop to classical; they create drama, film, television and visual arts, which enrich cultural life around the world. The same can be said of artists in every country, to a greater or lesser extent. Art is a social practice. Our culture is a world culture. But despite their essential role in human life and happiness, cultural workers are often among the lowest paid and most precariously employed. They are brutally exploited by giant corporations, who treat the arts as a source of surplus value and shareholder payouts, not cultural enlightenment and spiritual satisfaction.

As coronavirus cases explode, French teachers demand closure of schools - While the number of coronavirus cases is rising rapidly in France, and the health care system risks being completely overwhelmed, there is a growing movement among teachers for the closure of schools and the adoption of a lockdown policy opposed by the Macron government. Yesterday, more than 30,000 coronavirus cases were reported across France. The seven-day average for cases is now 33,500, but is rising rapidly. For three days last week, the number of reported cases was between 40,000-45,000. On average, almost 300 people die every day. There is every indication however that the death toll is on the verge of a major increase. The hospital system is already at a critical point. Yesterday, the total number of patients in intensive care surpassed 5,000, eclipsing for the first time the peak set during the second wave in November last year. In the Ile-de-France region around Paris, the number of patients in intensive care units is 1,484. Yesterday, however, the Public Assistance of Paris Hospitals (AP-HP) warned that, based on the accelerating hospitalisation rate, even assuming a strict lockdown is imposed beginning April 1, the number of ICU patients will more than double to 3,470 in the Paris area within three weeks. If the government waits an additional week to order a lockdown, this would rise to 4,466 by April 29. In an interview last week with the Journal du Dimanche, President Macron defended his government’s refusal to impose a lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus. Behind the homicidal policy of allowing the virus to spread through the population stand the interests of the French financial elite, which rejects any restriction on non-essential production or schools that would threaten the flow of corporate profits. Faced with a wave of denunciations by scientists and doctors, Macron is due to deliver a national televised address this evening.

Macron rejects calls for strict lockdown as COVID-19 surges in France - In a nationally-televised address last night, French President Emmanuel Macron rejected desperate calls from medical authorities for a hard lockdown, as the pandemic spins out of control throughout the country. Instead, Macron announced minor social-distancing measures that are totally inadequate as a contagion driven by COVID-19 variants surges across France and Europe. Schools will be closed and classes transitioned online for one week, beginning next Monday, before the holiday break at the end of next week. After the two-week holidays, preschool and primary school-aged children will return to in-person classes, while high school classes are to remain online for an additional week. For the 1 or 2 weeks that classes are online, parents who cannot work from home will receive wage assistance to remain at home. Measures imposed two weeks ago in 20 regions, including Paris, are also to be extended across France. These include closing retail stores selling nonessential items, and limiting people’s movements when not going to work or school to a 10-kilometre radius around homes. Acting with blatant contempt for human life, Macron ignored urgent warnings by medical authorities that anything less than a full lockdown will flood hospitals in Paris and other major cities across France. Thousands of lives will be lost as doctors are forced into the barbaric situation of choosing whom they will treat, and whom they will not treat, for lack of space. Daily new cases in France range between 34,000 and 45,000—the equivalent of 200,000 daily cases in a country the size of the United States. Less than 5 percent of French people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The day before Macron spoke, Patrick Bouet, the head of the National Council of the Order of Doctors, wrote, “we have lost control of the epidemic. Patients are ever younger, infections in schools are so many indicators of the continual degeneration of the situation over the last weeks.” Bouet cited desperate warnings from the Public Association of Paris Hospitals (AP-HP). With 1,484 patients in intensive care, 90 percent of intensive care beds are already occupied. However, AP-HP warned that a failure to enforce a strict lockdown beginning April 1 would mean more than 3,400 patients in intensive care within the Ile-de-France broader Paris region in three weeks. An additional week’s delay, they warned, would mean 1,000 patients more would need intensive care by the end of the month. “Life can tolerate today no arbitrage, no hesitation, no betting,” Bouet wrote, concluding: “I solemnly ask you, Mr President, before we are massively vaccinated, everywhere the situation is serious, you must put us under lockdown.” Instead, Macron signalled that the virus will be allowed to continue spreading throughout the population, in defiance of scientific and medical advice.

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