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Canada’s Desjardins Suspends Lending for Energy Pipelines

Canadian lender Desjardins is considering no longer funding energy pipelines, a spokesman said Saturday, citing concerns about the impact such projects may have on the environment.

Desjardins, the largest association of credit unions in North America, Friday temporarily suspended lending for such projects and may make the decision permanent, spokesman Jacques Bouchard told Reuters by telephone.

He said the lender would make a final decision in September.

Following ING

Desjardins, a backer of Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd’s high-profile expansion of its Trans Mountain pipeline, has been evaluating its policy for such lending for months, Bouchard said.

If it makes the decision permanent, that would likely mean Desjardins would not help finance other major Canadian pipelines projects, including TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL and Energy East and Enbridge Inc’s Line 3.

Such a move would follow that of Dutch lender ING Groep NV, which has a long-standing policy of not funding projects directly related to oil sands, and is the latest sign that pipelines could have a harder time getting funding as banks face increasing pressure to back away.

Patrick Bonin, a campaigner with the environmental group Greenpeace, praised Desjardins for temporarily halting pipeline funding, but called on the lender to make it permanent and reconsider its C$145 million ($113 million) commitment to Trans Mountain.

Indigenous, environmental groups

Desjardins is among 24 financial institutions that agreed to lend money to a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan Canada, majority owned by Kinder Morgan Inc of Houston, according to regulatory filings.

A coalition of more than 20 indigenous and environmental groups, including Greenpeace, in June called on 28 major banks to pull funding for Trans Mountain, citing the risk of pipeline spills and their potential contribution to climate change.

ING, which was targeted by the coalition, said it will not fund any of the major Canadian pipelines.

The same month, Sweden’s largest national pension fund, AP7, sold investments in six companies that it says violate the Paris climate agreement, including TransCanada, in a decision environmentalists believe is the first of its kind.

Trump Is Biggest Attraction at G-20 Summit

The G-20 summit of the world’s richest economies wrapped up Saturday against a backdrop of angry protests, and a pledge by leaders to fight protectionism in the face of U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy and Brexit. The U.S. leader took center stage at the two-day gathering, and his meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin was the major headline. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Hamburg.

US, Russia on Collision Course as They Compete for European Gas Market

Visiting Poland this week, U.S. President Donald Trump pledged to boost exports of American liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Central Europe and take on Russia’s stranglehold on energy supplies.

“America stands ready to help Poland and other European nations diversify their energy supplies so that you can never be held hostage to a single supplier,” Trump told reporters after talks with his Polish counterpart Thursday.

Up to now, that supplier has been Russia. It supplied around a third of Europe’s gas demand in 2016, with an even greater share in many of the former Soviet states in Central and Eastern Europe.

Watch: US, Russia on Collision Course in Competition for European Gas Market

Natural gas and dominance

Russian state-owned firm Gazprom shut off pipelines to Ukraine in 2015, depriving Kyiv of a major source of revenue and disrupting supplies to Eastern Europe.

“It’s a key pillar of Russian foreign policy: of using gas and energy as a means of asserting dominance over Central Europe,” said Marek Matraszek, founder of the lobby firm CEC Government Relations, who played a major role in the Polish government’s acquisition of U.S.-built F-16 fighter planes.

The first shipment of American liquefied natural gas arrived at the port of Swinoujscie on Poland’s Baltic coast last month. The port facility and liquefaction plant were finished in 2015, aimed at diversifying the country’s energy sources and enabling Poland to become a hub supplying imported gas across Central and Eastern Europe.

With that in mind, the Three Seas Initiative Summit in Warsaw Thursday brought together leaders from a dozen Eastern European nations, plus Trump. He pledged the United States will never use energy as a political tool. 

Russia’s pipeline

Energy analyst Grzegorz Malecki, a former head of Poland’s Foreign Intelligence Agency says Russia will be watching with interest.

“If this new source of gas supplies is moved forward and the infrastructure built, it may cause Russia to change its approach. The Polish government is probably counting on it. Russia may change its politics towards Poland regarding energy,” Malecki told VOA in an interview this week.

Russia has plans of its own to boost exports. Initially scheduled to open in 2019, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline would double its capacity to export gas directly to Germany beneath the Baltic Sea, bypassing Ukraine. Eastern European states want the project blocked.

“If we want to have United States’ LNG supplies in Central Europe, we also want to see the United States getting tough on Nord Stream 2, which means getting tough on Russia,” Matraszek said.

American LNG and the Nord Stream 2 project are on a collision course, with Poland stuck in the middle, Malecki said.

“It’s hard to hide the fact that these two projects compete with each other. The odds are that there will be a clash of these energy giants in Europe,” he said.

Three-hundred kilometers west along the Baltic coast from where the existing Nord Stream pipeline comes ashore in Germany, Trump and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin held their first face-to-face meeting at the G-20 Summit in Hamburg Friday.

If the American LNG deal goes through, it could have a broader impact on U.S.-Russia relations, said John Hannah of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“I think it could all happen relatively quickly and in a way that will give us much stronger leverage over Putin and the Russians to begin pushing back against some of the more aggressive activities that we’ve seen, not only in Europe but against the United States as well,” Hannah said.

Trump remains upbeat about his relationship with Putin, but the evolving energy policies in Europe will likely remain a source of friction.

US, Russia on Collision Course Vying for Europe Gas Market

Visiting Poland this week, U.S. President Donald Trump pledged to boost exports of American liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Central Europe and take on Russia’s stranglehold on energy supplies.

“America stands ready to help Poland and other European nations diversify their energy supplies so that you can never be held hostage to a single supplier,” Trump told reporters after talks with his Polish counterpart Thursday.

Up to now, that supplier has been Russia. It supplied around a third of Europe’s gas demand in 2016, with an even greater share in many of the former Soviet states in Central and Eastern Europe.

Watch: US, Russia on Collision Course in Competition for European Gas Market

Natural gas and dominance

Russian state-owned firm Gazprom shut off pipelines to Ukraine in 2015, depriving Kyiv of a major source of revenue and disrupting supplies to Eastern Europe.

“It’s a key pillar of Russian foreign policy: of using gas and energy as a means of asserting dominance over Central Europe,” said Marek Matraszek, founder of the lobby firm CEC Government Relations, who played a major role in the Polish government’s acquisition of U.S.-built F-16 fighter planes.

The first shipment of American liquefied natural gas arrived at the port of Swinoujscie on Poland’s Baltic coast last month. The port facility and liquefaction plant were finished in 2015, aimed at diversifying the country’s energy sources and enabling Poland to become a hub supplying imported gas across Central and Eastern Europe.

With that in mind, the Three Seas Initiative Summit in Warsaw Thursday brought together leaders from a dozen Eastern European nations, plus Trump. He pledged the United States will never use energy as a political tool. 

Russia’s pipeline

Energy analyst Grzegorz Malecki, a former head of Poland’s Foreign Intelligence Agency says Russia will be watching with interest.

“If this new source of gas supplies is moved forward and the infrastructure built, it may cause Russia to change its approach. The Polish government is probably counting on it. Russia may change its politics towards Poland regarding energy,” Malecki told VOA in an interview this week.

Russia has plans of its own to boost exports. Initially scheduled to open in 2019, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline would double its capacity to export gas directly to Germany beneath the Baltic Sea, bypassing Ukraine. Eastern European states want the project blocked.

“If we want to have United States’ LNG supplies in Central Europe, we also want to see the United States getting tough on Nord Stream 2, which means getting tough on Russia,” Matraszek said.

American LNG and the Nord Stream 2 project are on a collision course, with Poland stuck in the middle, Malecki said.

“It’s hard to hide the fact that these two projects compete with each other. The odds are that there will be a clash of these energy giants in Europe,” he said.

Three-hundred kilometers west along the Baltic coast from where the existing Nord Stream pipeline comes ashore in Germany, Trump and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin held their first face-to-face meeting at the G-20 Summit in Hamburg Friday.

If the American LNG deal goes through, it could have a broader impact on U.S.-Russia relations, said John Hannah of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“I think it could all happen relatively quickly and in a way that will give us much stronger leverage over Putin and the Russians to begin pushing back against some of the more aggressive activities that we’ve seen, not only in Europe but against the United States as well,” Hannah said.

Trump remains upbeat about his relationship with Putin, but the evolving energy policies in Europe will likely remain a source of friction.

US, Russia on Collision Course in Competition for European Gas Market

Visiting Poland this week, US President Donald Trump pledged to boost exports of American liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Central Europe, challenging Russia’s dominance of the market. Many European countries accuse Moscow of using energy as a political tool. As Henry Ridgwell reports from Warsaw, analysts say the United States and Russia are on a collision course over energy supplies to the region.

US Economy Adds 222,000 Jobs in June; Wages Remain Flat

Job creation in the U.S. appears to have picked up speed, with employers adding 222,000 jobs last month. But the unemployment rate ticked higher as more Americans resumed their job search. That’s probably a good thing, according to some economists who say the bigger challenge is how to speed up wage growth. Mil Arcega reports.

Facebook to Build Housing in Silicon Valley for First Time

The shortage of housing in California’s Silicon Valley has gotten so severe that Facebook Inc. on Friday proposed taking homebuilding into its own hands for the first time with a plan to construct 1,500 units near its headquarters.

The growth of Facebook, Alphabet Inc.’s Google and other tech companies has strained neighborhoods in the San Francisco Bay area that were not prepared for an influx of tens of thousands of workers during the past decade. Home prices and commute times have risen.

Tech companies have responded with measures such as internet-equipped buses for employees with long commutes.

Facebook has offered at least $10,000 in incentives to workers who move closer to its offices.

Those steps, though, have not reduced complaints that tech companies are making communities unaffordable, and they have mostly failed to address the area’s housing shortage.

“The problem with Silicon Valley is you don’t have enough supply to keep up with the demand,” said Sam Khater, deputy chief economist at real estate research firm CoreLogic.

With Facebook’s construction plan, the company said it wanted to invest in Menlo Park, the city some 45 miles (72 km) south of San Francisco where it moved in 2011.

The company said it wants to build a “village” that will also have 1.75 million square feet of office space and 125,000 square feet of retail space.

“Part of our vision is to create a neighborhood center that provides long-needed community services,” John Tenanes, Facebook’s vice president for global facilities, said in a statement.

The 1,500 Facebook housing units would be open to anyone, not just employees, and 15 percent of them would be offered at below market rates, the company said.

Facebook said it expects the review process to take two years.

Alphabet has taken a smaller step, buying 300 modular apartment units for short-term employee housing, the Wall Street Journal reported last month.

Menlo Park Mayor Kirsten Keith said in an interview that there were concerns about whether the Facebook plan would increase traffic, a subject the city’s planning department would study.

She said, though, that Facebook’s plan fits with the city’s own long-term plan for development, and that the city was excited about the additional housing.

Facebook’s Tenanes said the density of the proposed development could also entice spending on transit projects.

“The region’s failure to continue to invest in our transportation infrastructure alongside growth has led to congestion and delay,” he said.

Argentina Slaps Embattled Firm Odebrecht With 1-year Bid Ban

Argentina on Friday banned embattled Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht from bidding on public works projects in the country for 12 months due to investigations of bribes the company paid here and elsewhere.

 

The announcement published in the government’s official bulletin also cites corruption and money laundering cases in Brazil and other countries that have led to prison sentences, admission of guilt and clemency pleas by company executives.

 

The company said it was evaluating the decision and would make sure its rights are preserved.

 

“Odebrecht reiterates that it is committed to collaborating with authorities and that it is already adopting the necessary measures for an honest, ethical and transparent corporate behavior,” a company statement said.

Odebrecht is a key focus of the “Operation Car Wash” investigation into a mammoth kickback scheme at Brazil’s state-run oil company — the biggest corruption scandal in that country’s history. The initial investigation was launched in 2014 and has mushroomed into related probes abroad because companies like Odebrecht operated across Latin America.

Company executives acknowledged to U.S. prosecutors earlier this year that they paid more than $700 million bribes to officials in 10 Latin American and two African nations in exchange for multi-million-dollar contracts with local governments. About $35 million in bribes were paid in Argentina between 2007 and 2014.

 

Argentine Justice Minister German Garavano recently traveled to Washington to meet with a prosecutor and share information that can advance the Odebrecht case. But Argentine prosecutors say Argentina lacks a legal mechanism that would allow companies to provide information in exchange for leniency deals like those that have been signed in other nations.