All posts by Zhloeco

Trump Administration Halts Obama-Era Rule on Fracking on Public Land

The Trump administration is rolling back an Obama administration rule requiring companies that drill for oil and natural gas on federal lands to disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking.

The administration said in court papers Wednesday that it is withdrawing from a lawsuit challenging the Obama-era rule and will begin a new rule-making process later this year.

The Interior Department issued the rule in March 2015, the first major federal regulation of fracking, the controversial drilling technique that has sparked an ongoing boom in natural gas production but raised widespread concerns about possible groundwater contamination and even earthquakes.

The rule has been on hold since last year after a judge in Wyoming ruled that federal regulators lack congressional authority to set rules for fracking.

Interior Department confirms intent

A spokeswoman for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke confirmed the administration’s intent to submit a new rule but did not add further comment late Wednesday. Zinke took office March 1 and has promised to review a slew of department rules and policies.


Michael Saul, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group, called the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw the fracking rule “disturbing” and said it “highlights Trump’s desire to leave our beautiful public lands utterly unprotected from oil industry exploitation.”

Backing away from what he called modest rules “is doubly dangerous, given the administration’s reckless plans to ramp up fracking and drilling on public lands across America,” Saul said.

The Obama-era rule came after three years of consideration, drawing criticism from the oil and gas industry as unnecessary and duplicative of state efforts to regulate drilling. Some environmental groups worried that the rules were too lenient and could allow unsafe drilling techniques to pollute groundwater. started in 2011

The rule relies on an online database used by at least 16 states to track the chemicals used in fracking operations. The website,, was formed by industry and intergovernmental groups in 2011 and allows users to gather well-specific data on tens of thousands of drilling sites across the country.

Companies would have had to disclose the chemicals they use within 30 days of the fracking operation.

Fracking involves pumping huge volumes of water, sand and chemicals underground to split open rocks to allow oil and gas to flow.

Trump, on Michigan Trip, to Hit Brakes on Tougher Fuel-Efficiency Standards

President Donald Trump is to tell American autoworkers Wednesday in the state of Michigan that he is setting aside strict fuel-economy requirements imposed by the previous administration in its waning days.

The Trump White House contends that action broke an earlier agreement with the auto industry to wait until 2018 to review the standards.

“The auto industry, rightly, cried foul,” a senior White House official told reporters Tuesday. “We’re going to get this midterm review back on track.”

Advocates of the tougher standards dispute that.

The year 2018 “was the deadline by which they were obligated to complete the review. No agreement was broken,” Therese Langer, transportation program director at the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) told VOA News.

“The agencies completed a comprehensive technical assessment report in July 2016, which made clear that the standards as adopted remained feasible and cost-effective. At that point, making the decision promptly was consistent with the goal of providing adequate lead time for manufacturer product planning.”

Setting standards

The Trump administration wants to set standards “that are technologically and economically feasible,” according to the official who briefed reporters on condition he not be named.

Some automakers argued that the tougher standards, set just prior to the January inauguration, will be too costly.

The pro-business president and his new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, who has expressed skepticism about the scientific consensus on climate change, support rolling back the stricter standards.

But the administration cannot scrap the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) mandate completely without Congress’ consent. Lawmakers originally approved the CAFE regulations in the mid-1970s, following the oil embargo by OPEC members.

The current issue deals with rules on fuel economy and emissions affecting automobiles that will appear in showrooms from the years 2022 through 2025.

The proposed vehicle standards for those model years “will save consumers tens of billions of dollars at the pump and help domestic automakers stay competitive in a global vehicle market that is moving steadily toward highly efficient vehicles,” ACEEE executive director Steve Nadel told VOA.

Detroit automakers

But the move to cars and trucks that do not rely on conventional fossil fuels, such as gasoline and diesel, has slowed, say those in the Trump administration and in the auto industry.

“Because we have low gas prices, consumers just aren’t buying those vehicles” that run on batteries in addition to or instead of fuel, said the Trump administration official briefing reporters at the White House.

Trump’s trip to Michigan will include meetings with Detroit automakers, suppliers and unions, and then attending a rally of automakers.

At the last event Wednesday, the president is to announce his intention to stall the goal of having a fleet average of 54.5 miles per gallon (23.2 kilometers per liter) by the year 2025.

One hitch for the industry and other proponents of the looser standards is that 13 states say they will follow California in adhering to stricter fleet fuel efficiencies – a market that makes up more than 40 percent of the U.S. automotive sales market.

“That’s an issue we’ll have to confront, but it’s farther down the road,” the senior White House official said when asked about that issue by reporters.

China Anxious About Trade War With US

China is warning about the possible impact of a trade war with the United States, even as the world’s two biggest economies take steps to map out relations under the administration of President Donald Trump.

Speaking at an annual news conference Wednesday, at the end of high-level political meetings in Beijing, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang talked up the benefits of good relations between the two countries. He said he was optimistic about ties, but also warned a trade war would hurt American businesses first.

“We do not want to see any trade war breaking out between the two countries. That would not make our trade fairer and would harm both sides,” Li said. “Our hope on the Chinese side is that no matter what bumps the China-U.S. relationship hits, we hope it will continue to move forward in a positive direction.”

Getting personal

Chinese state media this week have been releasing a steady drumbeat of opinion pieces and editorials supporting that view. Some even going so far as to highlight the personal benefits Trump’s business empire would reap through better economic relations with China.

One opinion piece in the Communist Party-backed Global Times highlighted the huge business interests Trump’s commercial empire has in China and Beijing’s recent and unprecedented “preliminary approval” of more than 30 Trump trademarks. The approval of so many trademarks at once – covering business ventures such as golf clubs, hotels and restaurants – has surprised analysts.

Much like Li did in the press conference Wednesday, the Global Times article argued that American businesses would suffer if there was a trade war. It also added a not so subtle threat: “Trump’s position as U.S. president would not offer his business immunity from a trade war with China and would be impacted just as other U.S. enterprises if Sino-U.S. relations were to suffer.”

The piece ended by arguing that one tough test of Trump’s political wisdom will be how he manages following through on his pledge to put “America First” while avoiding setbacks in U.S.-China relations.

Tough talk

On the campaign trail and since his election, President Trump’s blunt criticisms of China have unnerved leaders in Beijing. Trump has talked and Tweeted about a wide range of issues from trade to the South China Sea, as well as Beijing’s handling of North Korea.

But it is his threats on the campaign trail to label China a currency manipulator and to impose huge tariffs on Chinese goods that worry Beijing the most. So far, he has not followed through on either of those pledges, but the U.S. Treasury will issue a semi-annual currency report in April.


That continues to unnerve Beijing despite recent signs that the two sides are beginning to engage.


Reports this week have suggested that Trump and Xi could meet in early April in Florida. On Saturday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will make his first trip to Beijing.


Fairer trade


In an interview with CNBC earlier this week, Acting Assistant Secretary of State Susan Thornton said Tillerson’s visit would help set up the relationship going forward and lay out a framework for issues on which Washington wants to see progress.


And one of the key issues for that visit that she highlighted in that interview was fairer trade.


“While we have a very important economic relationship with China, it hasn’t been a level playing field vis a vis U.S. companies and U.S. interests,” Thornton said. “We are going to be insisting that there be fair trade measures that be put in place and that be observed and implemented.”


Concerns about the lack of a level-playing field for American businesses in China and the impact of trade on U.S. jobs persist. Last year, the United States trade deficit with China was $347 billion, down only slightly from the previous year.


At his press conference, Li pledged that China would continue to open up its economy and argued that American companies and others were already seeing benefits.


 “We may have different statistical methods, but I believe whatever differences we may have, we can always sit down and talk to each other, and work together to reach consensus,” Li said.


China’s premier also added that statistics show that trade and investment between the two countries created over one million jobs in the United States last year.

UN Pushes ‘Smart Crops’ as Rice Alternative to Tackle Hunger in Asia

Asia needs to make extra efforts to defeat hunger after progress has slowed in the last five years, including promoting so-called “smart crops” as an alternative to rice, the head of the U.N. food agency in the region said.

Kundhavi Kadiresan, representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Asia, said the region needs to focus on reaching the most marginalized people, such as the very poor or those living in mountainous areas.

The Asia-Pacific region halved the number of hungry people from 1990 to 2015 but the rate of progress slowed in many countries – such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Cambodia – in the last five years, according to a December FAO report.

“The last mile is always difficult.. so extra efforts, extra resources and more targeted interventions are needed,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of a business forum on food security in Jakarta on Tuesday.

She said government and businesses needed to develop policies to help make food more affordable, while changing Asians’ diets that rely heavily on rice.

“We have focused so much on rice that we haven’t really looked at some of those crops like millets, sorghum and beans,” she said.

A campaign is underway to promote these alternatives as “smart crops” to make them more attractive, Kadiresan said.

“We are calling them smart crops to get people not to think about them as poor people’s food but smart people’s food,” she said, adding that they are not only nutritious but also more adaptable to climate change.

Soaring rice prices, slowing economic expansion and poorer growth in agricultural productivity have been blamed for the slowdown in efforts to tackle hunger.

More than 60 percent of the world’s hungry are in Asia-Pacific, while nearly one out of three children in the region suffers from stunting, according to the FAO.

Achieving zero hunger by 2030 is one of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals adopted by member states in 2015.

A Barrel of Fun: Niagara Falls Touts Thrills in Rebranding

Niagara Falls, whose most famous thrill-seekers have gone over the brink in barrels, wants to be the place the rest of us go for outdoor adventure, too.


A new marketing effort launched Tuesday rebrands the American shore of the falls as a natural playground to be explored on foot, bike, boat or helicopter.


U.S. tourism officials, ever in competition with their counterparts on the heavily developed Canadian side of the binational attraction, say their new focus embraces the American side’s less commercial feel in a way they hope will attract more visitors for longer stays.


“What people are wanting to have on a getaway or a vacation is a time of experience and not just to come and witness or see and hear, but actually experience and touch and feel and do,” said John Percy, president and chief executive of Niagara Tourism & Convention Corp., which has been renamed Destination Niagara USA.


“Niagara Falls is the embodiment of America’s adventurous spirit,” he said.


The refocusing, coming just in time for the busy season, followed interviews, focus groups and visitor surveys that found that those who visit and live in the region most value its scenic, historical and natural attributes and are drawn to outdoor adventure, officials said.


The findings align with support in recent years for the ongoing removal of a highway that was built along the Niagara River, which will increase access to the water’s edge, as well as strong opposition to a proposal to build a lodge on rustic Goat Island inside Niagara Falls State Park. Opponents of the lodge cite renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted’s declaration more than 100 years ago that the area should be off-limits to developers.


It’s a marked contrast to Niagara Falls, Ontario, where neon-lit museums, rides and restaurants offer a carnival-like atmosphere at the water’s edge.


Niagara Falls State Park sees about 8 million visitors every year from all over the world, a number that has been steadily rising, Percy said, along with hotel visits and dollars spent.

Brazil Prosecutor Aims Graft Probe at Dozens of Politicians

Brazil’s top public prosecutor asked the Supreme Court to open 83 new investigations into senior politicians on Tuesday, reportedly including five ministers and leading lawmakers, in a dramatic escalation of a graft probe threatening the government.

Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot also requested that the Court send 211 other requests to lower courts based on much-anticipated testimony by dozens of executives of engineering group Odebrecht SA in Brazil’s biggest-ever corruption scandal.

Brazilian newspapers reported that Janot called for an investigation of five members of President Michel Temer’s cabinet, along with his most senior allies in Congress, raising concerns about the stability of his administration and the fate of fiscal reforms cheered by investors.

Temer said last month that he would suspend any cabinet member who is placed under investigation and would dismiss them only if they are indicted for corruption.

Under Brazilian law, cabinet ministers, federal senators and lower house lawmakers can be tried only in the Supreme Court, where cases often take years to come to trial.

Janot could not disclose the names of the politicians and others covered by his request as the Odebrecht testimony and related investigations are still under seal. He asked Supreme Court Justice Edson Fachin to lift the judicial secrecy on the case for the sake of transparency and the public interest.

In a letter to explain the operation, Janot said his actions on Tuesday will remind Brazilians “of the sad reality of a democracy under attack by the corruption and the abuse of political and economical powers.”

President Temer himself has not been directly implicated in illicit party funding and has denied any wrongdoing in the sprawling three-year corruption scandal centered on overpriced contacts at state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA.

Dozens of politicians reportedly named for taking kickbacks in the testimony by Odebrecht executives included senators in Temer’s Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PDMB) and the allied Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), which led the impeachment of leftist Dilma Rousseff last year.

Janot called for lower courts to investigate Rousseff and her predecessor and political mentor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, according to newspapers O Globo, O Estado de S.Paulo and Folha de S.Paulo. Both former presidents have repeatedly denied any involvement or knowledge of alleged corruption.

Test for Temer

The new investigations will be a test for Temer as he strives to pull Latin America’s largest nation out of its worst recession in more than a century.

Temer succeeded Rousseff in May, vowing to eliminate corruption and restore fiscal discipline, but he has already lost several ministers to bribery allegations.

His chief of staff, Eliseu Padilha, a key organizer of political support in Congress for a crucial reform of Brazil’s costly pension system, is on thin ice after an Odebrecht executive was reported to have said he asked for a cash donation for Temer’s 2014 campaign.

Newspapers Globo, Folha and Estado reported that Padilha and four other members of Temer’s cabinet were on Janot’s list: Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes, Science Minister Gilberto Kassab, Cities Minister Bruno Araújo and Wellington Moreira Franco, the head of Temer’s high-profile infrastructure privatization program.

Janot also called for the investigation of key Temer allies in Congress, according to the newspapers, including lower House Speaker Rodrigo Maia and the three most senior PMDB senators: Senate President Eunicio Oliveira and senators Romero Juca and Renan Calheiros.

Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes said he required access to Janot’s accusations and will only comment when he is aware of the content. Cities Minister Araújo said he has asked for campaign donations from Odebrecht in the past, but did so in accordance with the law.

Senator Romero Jucá said he is available to collaborate with investigations and believes facts will be clarified.

Reuters was not able to confirm the media reports. The other politicians cited were not immediately available for comment, but they all have consistently denied wrongdoings.

The PMDB released a statement on Tuesday expressing support for the investigations and calling for “the clarification of the facts of the matter.”

PSDB said it has always defended the Car Wash investigation, believing that it is the only way to separate guilty from innocent.

Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles said news of the investigation should not hurt progress on the government’s pension reform.

Janot first opened investigations of seated politicians implicated in the kickback scandal in March 2015, but only five have been indicted and none convicted.

The new round of investigations fueled by the Odebrecht testimony follows 10 months of negotiations with the family-owned firm, Latin America’s largest engineering group.

In December, Odebrecht signed a leniency accord with prosecutors, agreeing to pay 6.7 billion reais ($1.9 billion), admit guilt and offer details of bribes it paid.

Seventy-seven of its executives, including family patriarch and Chairman Emilio Odebrecht and his jailed son and former Chief Executive Marcelo Odebrecht, made some 950 statements to a team of 116 prosecutors across the country, Janot’s office said.

IATA Still Wary of Protectionism After Positive Meeting with US Officials

Airline industry group IATA said it remains concerned about protectionist rhetoric from the United States and other governments, but also sees the new U.S. administration’s plans to invest in infrastructure as positive for the industry.

IATA’s Director General Alexandre de Juniac told reporters in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday that the group had recently held a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, which he described as “positive”. However, he also said the group was “heavily concerned” about plans by governments “to raise barriers on borders for trade and for travel.”

He did not say when the meeting took place.

“It was the opportunity for us to meet the new administration, to express our view and to understand what the new administration had in mind for aviation,” de Juniac said, adding that U.S. plans looked positive in terms of investment in infrastructure and regulation.

IATA and its members were critical of President Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order that blocked refugees and nationals of seven Muslim majority countries from traveling to the United States.

Many in the industry have said the ban was rolled out haphazardly without clear communication, causing chaos and confusion at airports globally. The Trump administration’s revised travel ban is due to come into effect on Thursday.

As well as in the United States, IATA is still concerned about “significant” protectionist rhetoric in Europe and other parts of the world, although it would take time before protectionist measures are felt in the industry, De Juniac said.

This year has started off better than expected, he said.

Passenger demand reached a five-year high in January.

However, IATA said in December that it expects profit in the airline industry to fall this year after a five-year rally and de Juniac said that view remained unchanged.

US Central Bank Expected to Boost Interest Rates Slightly on Wednesday

Most analysts predict the U.S. central bank will boost interest rates slightly on Wednesday as the economy nears full employment and inflation rises modestly.

Leaders of the U.S. Federal Reserve are gathered in Washington through Wednesday to debate interest rate policy.  

Experts at Moody’s Investor Service say the Fed will raise rates a quarter of a percent and predicts a couple of similar increases later this year.  Moody’s says even with several increases, rates will still be low enough to encourage growth.

The Fed slashed the benchmark interest rate nearly to zero during the recession to bolster growth and fight unemployment.  Many economists say declines in unemployment mean the economy no longer needs such help.

If officials keep interest rates too low for too long, they risk sparking an abrupt inflationary jump that could force the Fed to raise rates high and fast, disrupting the economy.  Officials raise interest rates to cool the economy and fend off inflation.  Overall, the Fed is trying to guide the economy toward full employment while keeping prices increases around two percent a year.

More evidence of economic strength was published Tuesday, as leaders of many of the largest U.S. companies raised their outlook for hiring, sales, and investment for the next six months.  The Business Roundtable represents companies that employ 15 million people and generate $6 trillion in annual revenues.  

These CEOs are eager to see promised cuts in taxes and regulation carried out in ways that help their businesses grow.