Gasoline Shortages Loom Due To Plant And Pipeline Shutdowns, Chemical Plants Also Offline
Gas shortages across Texas, as both refineries and distribution networks have been shut or cut by the storm. Stations as far away as Dallas are reporting long lines and insufficient supply. It’s expected to get worse over the Labor Day weekend.
Other states will likely be affected by the partial closure of a pipeline that sends gas from Texas to Southeastern states and up to New York. The Colonial Pipeline, which is a major supplier through the Southeastern U.S. to the Northeast, has continued to operate “intermittently” from areas in Louisiana that lie East of the flooding. The pipeline section from Houston to Louisiana remains closed, as are many of the refineries that supply it. The Colonial Pipeline’s operators say that part should be up and running again by Sunday.
Still, some congresspeople advocate releasing gasoline to Northeastern states from the Emergency Gasoline Reserve, which has never happened. It’s pretty new: established after Hurricane Sandy, and pretty small: holding just 8-hours worth of normal supply. The federal government did release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for the first time in 5 years, a million barrels so far.
Gas Prices continue to soar nationwide: futures up another 25-cents Thursday, cracking $2 a gallon. (Consider that the “wholesale” price.) That’s the highest in more than 2 years. About 20% of U.S. total refinery capacity remains offline, although several refiners continue the process of restarting plants in less-hard-hit areas and could have some back on line by today. Plants affected most directly by the storm are not expected to reopen until mid-September at the earliest, perhaps not until Thanksgiving.
And the U.S. Chemical Safety Board says it is launching an investigation into the Arkema chemical plant Northeast of Houston, where explosions occurred Thursday morning after volatile chemicals were moved to refrigerated trucks as a last-ditch safety effort that didn’t work. It wants to examine records and safety plans for the French-owned plant, which has previously been cited by both the federal and state government for violations. (Of course, Trump’s been trying to eliminate the Chemical Safety Board.)
But the impact could run far deeper than one troubled plant. Bloomberg reports this morning that U.S. production of the gas, ethylene has suddenly been cut in half, because a huge concentration of chemical plants around Houston that make it are now shut down. Ethylene is used in most common forms of plastic.
Trump Today Expected To Ask For Near $6-Billion Hurricane Relief Package, May Back Off “Wall” Demand
Trump this morning Tweeting he’ll return to Texas this weekend (and he’s apparently so excited by the journey that he again didn’t proof it):
Bloomberg says the request for the first round of disaster relief will probably look something like this: $5.5-billion to FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, and about half a billion to the Small Business Administration’s Disaster Loan Program.
Politico says two White House officials say Trump is willing to put off the subject of funding “the wall” until later in the year in order to ensure Hurricane relief goes smoothly. Just a week ago, the President was threatening a government shutdown if the “wall” didn’t start happening now. Who says this President doesn’t make sacrifices?!
Now that the President seems OK not doing a shutdown, the Tea Party’s so-called “Freedom Caucus” in the House seems to be reserving the right to do one anyway. Its leaders warning not to link hurricane aid to a debt ceiling increase that needs to be passed by the end of the month. The White House and congressional leadership appear to be leaning toward combining the two bills.
Trump Once Told “Dreamers” To “Rest Easy”. Now He May Tell Them “Go Home”
Many of the approximately 800,000 people covered under the the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, have been in the U.S. nearly their entire lives. They’re commonly referred to as “Dreamers”.
Now, Fox News reports Trump, as early as today, will end the program. According to Fox and McClatchy, Trump will likely allow people currently in it to stay until their current work permits expire, which would mean no more than 2 years. That’s quite a blow to people who’d been led to believe they’d be able to stay indefinitely.
It’s also a blow to employers, who fear if all the “Dreamers” go, it’s likely to create a labor shortage. Few are speaking out now. But Microsoft is, saying as a company that employs more than 2 dozen “Dreamers”, reversing the policy would mean a loss of “tremendous talent.”
DACA, which started during the Obama Administration, allows undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children to stay. While it doesn’t provide a path to citizenship, it does give those covered a 2-year work visa which can be renewed.
Back in April, President Trump told Dreamers to “rest easy”, that his immigration crackdown was not for them.
Trump has delayed a decision, and probably would’ve let it go longer, except he’s being manipulated now by 10 State Attorneys General, led by Texas’, who said they’ll sue first thing next week to kill DACA, if Trump doesn’t do it on his own. And there’s no way Trump’s committing himself to a major lawsuit where he’d be taking the side of illegal immigrants.
More Hurricane Aftermath
40 people are counted dead so far, according to the Houston Chronicle, and more are likely to be found as floodwaters recede and power is restored.
Public health now becomes a potentially big issue. Texas A&M tested Houston floodwater and found E-coli levels 125X higher than what’s considered safe for swimming.
Trump Hasn’t Given Up On Killing Obamacare
Trump may have paid cost sharing subsidies to insurers in August, which paved the way for coverage now being offered in all areas of all states.
But Sarah Kliff over at Vox tells us Trump is cutting the Obamacare advertising budget by 90% (not a typo), and the budget for promoting in-person enrollment in highly populated areas by more than 40%.
The White House has a novel argument to justify the cuts. It says (probably because of all the recent controversy) most Americans now know about Obamacare. State Insurance Commissioners don’t see it that way: “The surest way to kill the exchanges is to keep them a secret,” says a spokesperson, who argues getting healthy people to buy insurance–essential to the program’s success–requires outreach.
Trump Continues To Hire Fringe Characters Into The White House
Clarke has been a vehement Trump supporter and an embodiment of the harsh “law-and-order” philosophy Trump advocates. Clarke earlier announced he’d be joining Trump’s team as part of the Department of Homeland Security, but that job never materialized. That may be at least partly because as he’s moved more into the national spotlight, scrutiny has increased, especially in relation to inmates who have died under his watch, including one who died from dehydration after corrections officers denied him water.
It’s not clear what role Clarke will have at the White House. Except it’ll almost certainly be a job that does not require congressional approval.
A Story That’s Been Somewhat Under-The-Radar May Some Day Turn Out To Be The Biggest Of All
Politico broke the story that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is now working with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in its ongoing investigation of former Trump Campaign Chief Paul Manafort. (And it would stand to reason also Donald Trump, Jr., if not now, later on.) That’s not surprising in itself: and in fact, it’s likely Mueller and Schneiderman have been in communication for some time. And so what if the New York Attorney General is involved?
Here’s what: it potentially takes away Trumps ability/threat to pardon anybody who may be indicted. That’s because the Presidential power to pardon applies only to federal crimes. Since a lot of what’s being investigated occurred at Trump Tower, it would absolutely make sense for Schneiderman to bring the case in New York State court, free-and-clear of Trump’s ability to pardon. (Schneiderman may be best known for leading a suit against Trump over Trump University, which ended in a $25-million settlement.)
That keeps the pressure on. When Trump pardoned former Sheriff Arpaio, lots of legal analysts speculated that move negatively affected Mueller’s ability to put the squeeze on potential witnesses, who might not have seen any value in talking if they believed they’d be pardoned anyhow.
Maybe not so much.
Meanwhile, The Daily Beast reports Mueller is teaming with the IRS Criminal Investigations unit (rather than the FBI) for some parts of his investigation. That unit is known for chasing down financial crimes and money laundering.