Nation & World News

BP To Pay $18.7 Billion To Settle Gulf Coast Oil Spill Claims

By Brian Naylor on July 2nd, 2015 | Last updated: July 2, 2015 at 1:03 pm

BP on Thursday announced an $18.7 billion settlement with the U.S. government, five Gulf Coast states and more than 400 local governments. The agreement comes five years after the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Eleven workers were killed in the accident.

The company says the payments, to be made over the next 18 years, “settle all state and local claims arising from the event.”

The settlement was announced as a federal judge was about to rule on how much the company owed under the Clean Water Act. BP says it will pay a civil penalty of $5.5 billion under the Clean Water Act over 15 years.

The company will also pay $7.1 billion to the U. S. and the states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas over 15 years for natural resource damages, and $4.9 billion over 18 years to settle economic and other claims made by the five states.

BP says an additional $1 billion will be paid to more than 400 local government entities.

There remains legal work to be done; U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the Justice Department will “work diligently” over the next several months to incorporate the agreement into a consent decree, which would be open to public comment before court approval.

BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said, “With this agreement we provide a path to closure for BP and the Gulf. It resolves the company’s largest remaining legal exposures, provides clarity on costs and creates certainty of payment for all parties involved.”

The Wall Street Journal says the settlement “brings BP’s total tab for the spill to $53.8 billion, more than its combined profits since 2012.”

The spill, which resulted from the April 20, 2010, blowout on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, coated miles of wetlands with thick oil, killing birds, fish and marine mammals. Tar balls washed up on beaches around the Gulf.

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Unemployment Rate Falls To 5.3 Percent, But For The Wrong Reason

By Avie Schneider on July 2nd, 2015 | Last updated: July 2, 2015 at 2:04 pm

The U.S. economy keeps adding jobs at a steady pace, but the Labor Department report for June also shows more people are leaving the labor force and wages are not rising.

The economy added 223,000 jobs last month as unemployment fell to its lowest rate since 2008, the Labor Department said Thursday. The jobless rate dipped to 5.3 percent from 5.5 percent in May.

However, the number of net new jobs added in May was revised down to 254,000 from 280,000 previously reported. April’s job gains were also revised downward.

Retailers added about 33,000 jobs in June and manufacturing grew by 4,000, but construction jobs were unchanged, the report said.

Those looking for an increase in wages in this report were disappointed, as average weekly earnings remained flat along with average weekly hours.

Stuart Hoffman, chief economist of PNC Financial Services, said ahead of the report that employers are starting to feel a squeeze.

“More and more employers are saying they’re having trouble finding good qualified employees, or once they find them, holding onto them before they jump to some other job,” Hoffman said.

Indeed, as Bloomberg reports, the unemployment rate fell to a seven-year low as more people quit the labor force:

“The participation rate, which indicates the share of the working-age people in the labor force, decreased to 62.6 percent, the lowest since October 1977, from 62.9 percent.”

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Police Issue ‘All Clear’ At Washington Navy Yard

By Krishnadev Calamur on July 2nd, 2015 | Last updated: July 2, 2015 at 1:03 pm

Updated at 12:27 p.m. ET

The Washington, D.C., Police Department has issued an “all clear” at the Washington Navy Yard, the scene of a 2013 mass shooting, where there was a report today of possible gunshots.

“At this time, there is no evidence of gunshots. There is no evidence of a shooter. And there’s no evidence of any victims today,” District Mayor Muriel Bowser said at a news conference.

The U.S. Navy also confirmed there was no sign of a shooting.

“All personnel OK,” the Navy said in a tweet. “Follow-on NCIS investigation ongoing.”

The report that came in at 7:29 a.m. ET resulted in a lockdown/shelter-in-place at the Navy Yard.

“We’ve spoken with the person who called and have no concerns of a hoax, whatsoever,” D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said.

Police, the FBI, federal marshals and ambulances swarmed to the scene, and police blocked nearby streets, as speculation built over what — if anything — was going on inside.

In 2013, a mass shooting at the Navy Yard killed 12 people, along with the gunman.

Vice Adm. Dixon R. Smith, commander, Navy Installations Command, told reporters that experience helped the Navy provide “have counselors and chaplains” to those who were evacuated from the Navy Yard.

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POTUS Weighs In: No Peas In Guacamole

By Lucy Perkins on July 1st, 2015 | Last updated: July 2, 2015 at 1:03 pm

If you were about to talk to President Obama and suggest that he try adding fresh peas to guacamole, don’t. The Twitterverse learned this when someone asked Obama what he thought about a recipe The New York Times published that suggested adding fresh peas. The recipe drew a lot of rotten tomatoes from average folks, and someone asked Obama what he thought.

It came up during the president’s healthcare Q&A on Twitter, writes The Associated Press — “It turns out, the president is a traditionalist when it comes to his guac.”

In case you missed the buzz, here are a few tweets to give you an idea of how people reacted:

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush jumped in, too. Turns out he and Obama have similar views on guac policy:

Actually, not everyone rejected the concept.

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Cities In California Conserved A Lot Of Water In May

By Lucy Perkins on July 1st, 2015 | Last updated: July 1, 2015 at 7:03 pm

Cities in drought-plagued California took water conservation seriously in May. Residential water use went down by 28.9 percent in May, according to a press release from the State Water Resources Control Board.

“The numbers tell us that more Californians are stepping up to help make their communities more water secure, which is welcome news in the face of this dire drought,” said State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus, in the press release. “That said, we need all Californians to step up — and keep it up — as if we don’t know when it will rain and snow again, because we don’t. If the drought continues beyond this year, we’ll all be glad we did.”

The Associated Press reports that certain parts of the state saved more than others:

“The southern coast, which includes Los Angeles and San Diego, conserved 25 percent in May after months of tepid savings. Sacramento and its surrounding suburbs were the state’s top performer, cutting water use nearly 40 percent.”

In May, the LA Times wrote that, statewide, Californians only used 8.6 percent less water than they did last summer.

You can read more of our coverage on the drought here.

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Senators Call For VA To Explain Why It Couldn’t Find Mustard-Gassed Veterans

By Caitlin Dickerson on July 1st, 2015 | Last updated: July 2, 2015 at 11:03 am

A group of 12 U.S. senators is calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs to help World War II veterans who were exposed to mustard gas, after an NPR Investigation found the VA broke a decades-old promise to provide them compensation.

Last week, we reported that the VA had promised to contact about 4,000 veterans who were exposed to the chemical weapon during secret gas warfare tests in the 1940s. But in more than 20 years, the VA contacted only 610. Agency officials said they couldn’t find the rest, but an NPR researcher located more than 1,200, living and dead, in two months.

NPR also found that many of the veterans who applied for benefits were denied, even though they met the VA’s established criteria.

Tuesday the 12 senators — 11 Democrats and one Republican — wrote a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald saying they found the reports “profoundly disturbing,” and telling the VA “to take immediate and comprehensive steps to address this issue.”

They called on the VA to contact as many of the mustard gas test subjects as it can and immediately assist them in getting benefits. They also said the agency should determine why it failed to contact the veterans earlier and explain why some of those who met the benefits criteria had been rejected.

The group of senators includes Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., the ranking member on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., who also sits on the committee.

The VA acknowledged the letter in a statement to NPR, adding that it “appreciates the service and sacrifices of those World War II Veterans who may have been subject to mustard gas testing.”

The statement said VA officials are “working in good faith with all stakeholders to do right by these veterans to ensure that they receive the benefits and services to which they are entitled.”

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Justice Department Investigating Airlines For Possible Price Collusion

By Brian Naylor on July 1st, 2015 | Last updated: July 1, 2015 at 6:03 pm

The Justice Department says it is investigating “possible unlawful coordination” by several major airline carriers. American, Delta, Southwest and United Airlines have all confirmed receiving letters from the Justice Department.

In a statement, American said the department “seeks documents and information from the last two years that are related to statements and decisions about airline capacity.”

A United spokesman said the company is complying fully in regard to the probe.

The story was first reported by The Associated Press, which notes that the investigation “appears to focus on whether airlines illegally signaled to each other how quickly they would add new flights, routes and extra seats.”

The airline industry has been steadily consolidating in recent years, with American, Delta, Southwest and United now controlling 80 percent of the U.S. market. At the same time, the AP says, the average domestic airfare rose 13 percent from 2009 to 2014 adjusted for inflation.

And while fares have been going up, so too have fees that carriers charge for things such as checked bags and reservation changes. The AP says airlines collected $3.6 billion in bag fees and $3 billion in reservation-change fees, and that U.S. airlines earned a combined $19.7 billion in the past two years.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., recently wrote to the Justice Department and urged an investigation into airline pricing. The Wall Street Journal reports that:

“Sen. Blumenthal’s letter came after an international airline conference last month in Miami, where several executives of large North American airlines said they and their peers were being careful to limit service increases amid cheap fuel to protect profit margins. The letter urged the Justice Department to ‘investigate this apparent anti-competitive conduct potentially reflecting a misuse of market power, and excessive consolidation in the airline industry.’ ”

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement, “It’s hard to understand, with jet fuel prices dropping by 40 percent since last year, why ticket prices haven’t followed. We know that when airlines merge, there’s less price competition. What we need now is a top-to-bottom review to ensure consumers aren’t being hurt by industry changes.”

But the airline industry contends that its members are holding the line on prices.

In a statement, the industry group Airlines For America said it is “confident that the Justice Department will find what we know to be true: our members compete vigorously every day, and the traveling public has been the beneficiary, as the DOT’s own data shows that domestic fares are down in 2015.”

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Militants Stage Series Of Deadly Attacks In Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula

By Brian Naylor on July 1st, 2015 | Last updated: July 2, 2015 at 11:03 am

Militants launched a number of deadly attacks on checkpoints in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula early Wednesday. A group linked to the so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility.

Merrit Kennedy filed this report from Cairo for Newscast:

“In Egypt, militants launched a coordinated series of assaults in the restive north Sinai peninsula. The military says 17 soldiers were killed, though local security officials earlier in the day said more than 50 soldiers were killed.

“More than 70 militants hit at least five checkpoints in the early hours of the morning, setting off hours of deadly fighting between the soldiers and the militants. The military targeted groups of attackers with warplanes, according to military statements.

“The coordinated attacks on the checkpoints were later claimed by the Sinai affiliate of the self-described Islamic State.

“In a televised statement, Egypt’s armed forces vowed to root out terrorism from the Sinai, where a burgeoning insurgency has survived and even grown in the face of a major military campaign.”

The Washington Post says North Sinai “has been the site of heated battles between Egyptian government forces and militant Islamists for years.”

It adds that “attacks have been increasing in frequency since the military backed the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. According to some military experts, the attacks also have been increasing in sophistication.”

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Recreational Marijuana Is Now Legal In Oregon

By Lucy Perkins on July 1st, 2015 | Last updated: July 1, 2015 at 6:03 pm

Recreational marijuana is legal in Oregon as of today.

People 21 and older can now possess up to an ounce of pot when away from home and up to 8 ounces at home. It’s also legal to grow up to four plants per household.

However, there’s no way to legally buy it unless you’re a medical marijuana patient, writes The Oregonian. The newspaper says that “the Oregon Legislature and the Oregon Liquor Control Commission are still crafting regulations that will shape the state’s regulated industry. Sales of marijuana aren’t expected to begin until late 2016, though lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow medical marijuana dispensaries to sell to recreational consumers this year.”

The Associated Press reports that this isn’t a big change in some places:

“In populous parts of the state that have long been tolerant of marijuana, police don’t generally bust people using it in private. Most important, though, is that under the new law it’s still illegal to sell recreational marijuana. When Oregon voters approved Measure 91 last November, they left the job of writing rules for pot shops to the Legislature and the state liquor control agency, which so far haven’t gotten it all figured out.”

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission plans to start accepting applications from farmers in January, the AP writes.

So if you can’t legally buy recreational marijuana in Oregon, where can you get it?

“Marijuana can be given away, so if you know anyone who has a medical marijuana card, they can legally share buds, seeds or plants with you,” writes Lizzy Duffy of member station OPB in Portland.

She says marijuana and its use is expected to stay out of sight and out of public places under the new law. Even if you’re in your parked car, if it’s out on public streets, you can’t use marijuana. Here’s more from her FAQ post:

“What will get me in trouble under the new law?

  • Exceeding any possession limits
  • Driving under the influence of marijuana
  • Buying or possessing marijuana if you’re not at least 21
  • Importing or exporting across state borders
  • Distributing large amounts or selling marijuana without proper licensing
  • Using, exchanging or growing marijuana in public
  • Possessing marijuana in prison or jail”

Voters in Oregon passed Measure 91, legalizing recreational use of pot, last fall. The AP says three other states — Washington, Alaska, Colorado — and the District of Columbia permit recreational use of marijuana.

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Somebody Is Cutting Internet Cables In California

By Brian Naylor on July 1st, 2015 | Last updated: July 2, 2015 at 7:03 am

The FBI is investigating a string of recent physical attacks on Internet cables in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The most recent occurred early Tuesday morning, reports The Wall Street Journal, hitting “several cables in Livermore, Calif., shortly before 4:30 a.m. Pacific time and hadn’t been repaired as of early Tuesday evening, according to several Internet service providers affected by the outage.”

The FBI has asked for the public’s help in finding those responsible for the attacks.

According to USA Today, there have been at least 11 attacks since a year ago. The newspaper adds:

“FBI agents declined to specify how significantly the attack affected customers, citing the ongoing investigation. In Tuesday’s attack, someone broke into an underground vault and cut three fiber-optic cables belonging to Colorado-based service providers Level 3 and Zayo.

“The attacks date back to at least July 6, 2014, said FBI Special Agent Greg Wuthrich.

” ‘When it affects multiple companies and cities, it does become disturbing,’ Wuthrich said. ‘We definitely need the public’s assistance.’ ”

Fiber-optic cables are the backbone of high-speed Internet service, with each cable containing thousands of fibers that use light waves to transmit data.

In our interconnected world, a cut cable can have far-reaching consequences. The Journal reports that Microsoft experienced “a slowdown in its Azure cloud computing service in the western U.S linked to cut fiber” and that service providers reported disruptions as far north as Seattle.

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