Friday, May 16, 2008

U.S. news

US oil shipments canceled.
Responding to congressional pressure, the Bush administration on Friday said it is suspending oil deliveries into the government's Strategic Petroleum Reserve for the remainder of the year.
The move came days after Congress passed legislation requiring President Bush to temporarily halt shipments into the reserve in hopes of lowering gasoline prices. The president is expected to sign the bill.
The decision came as Bush, visiting Saudi Arabia, sought to get the Saudis to pump more oil. Saudi Arabia announced it decided a week ago that it increase production by 300,000 barrels a day in response to customer requests, although it also told U.S. officials it believes world supplies are sufficient to meet demand.
The Energy Department said it will not sign six-month contracts schedule to have begun starting July 1, for the acceptance of 76,000 barrels of oil a day. The department also plans to defer deliveries under existing contracts once the legislation passed by Congress late Wednesday becomes law.
Bush had opposed halting the shipments, arguing that such a relatively small amount of oil would not influence prices. The reserve, a system of salt caverns on the Louisiana and Texas Gulf coast, is 97 percent full, holding 701 million barrels of crude.
The stockpile, currently sufficient to cover two months of oil imports, is kept as a cushion in case of a major disruption of oil supplies.
It's not clear how much of an impact — if any — the interruption of deliveries into the reserve will have on oil or gasoline prices.
Crude oil prices were about $126 a barrel and held firm Friday on the New York Mercantile Exchange, despite the U.S. and Saudi announcements. Average gasoline costs were nearly $3.79 a gallon, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service.
Both the House and Senate by lopsided votes this week directed the president to suspend the oil SPR shipments with both Republicans and Democrats saying it made no sense for the government to take oil at today's prices. The crude oil would better be left on the market to increase commercial supplies, they said.
The government accepts the oil in lieu of royalty payments that otherwise would go into the U.S. Treasury on oil taken from U.S. land and offshore waters. Administration officials emphasized they are not actually "buying" oil, but critics say the U.S. Treasury in any case is losing revenue.
Texas officials sue US over border fence
Texas mayors and business leaders filed a class-action lawsuit Friday alleging Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff hoodwinked landowners into waiving their property rights for construction of a fence along the Mexican border.
Members of the Texas Border Coalition said Chertoff did not fairly negotiate compensation with landowners for access to their land for six-month surveys to choose fence sites. The coalition of mayors and business and community leaders is seeking an injunction to block work on the fence.
They also want a federal judge to rescind all the agreements with landowners and to order Chertoff to start again. The department has sought and won access from hundreds of landowners to determine where to build the fence and other barriers to illegal border crossings.
The coalition's attorney, Peter Schey, said Chertoff violated a 1996 immigration law that requires fair negotiation with landowners.
The lawsuit also names Robert Janson, director of Asset Management at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as a defendant.
It was filed with U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, a Bush nominee who presided in the criminal case of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff.
"They hoodwinked property owners" into waiving their property rights, Schey said.
"This whole thing has been built on a foundation of lawlessness," he said.
Landowners were visited by officials from Homeland Security, Army Corps of Engineers and Customs and Border Patrol. But the government didn't send anyone to advise the owners' of their property rights, Schey said. Some landowners accepted offers of $100 for access to their land.
The Department of Homeland Security has repeatedly denied allegations of unfair negotiations, saying it has bent over backward to work with landowners.
The agency wants to build about 353 miles of fence by year's end to bring total fencing, walls and barriers to about 670 miles.
"This is just a delay tactic. I can't imagine this has any merit," said Homeland Security spokeswoman Laura Keehner, who had not yet seen the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also alleges:
-Chertoff failed to write and make public any regulations or guidelines on negotiation procedure and determining a "reasonable" price for access to property.
-Chertoff has not written policies on how to consult with landowners about their concerns as required by a 2007 law.
-Landowners' rights to equal protection under the law were violated because the fence bypasses the property of some well-connected landowners, including Dallas billionaire Ray Hunt and his relatives.
-The newer law requires Chertoff to build the fence where it is most practical and effective but he continues to build where a 2006 law specified.
Brownsville Mayor Pat Ahumada said the mayors are willing to work with Homeland Security to devise alternatives to the border fence.
"They are determined to build a wall to appease mid-America," Ahumada said. "This is a political problem that's being addressed at the expense of all the border communities."
North Korea Gets Food Supplies as U.S. Resumes Aid
The U.S. said it reached agreement with North Korea to resume food assistance needed because of a ``severe'' shortage in the isolated communist nation.
North Korea will receive 500,000 metric tons of commodities during the 12 months starting in June, the U.S. Agency for International Development said today in a statement.
The World Food Program will distribute 400,000 tons of the aid, and American nonprofit organizations will handle the remainder.
The assistance is restarting as North Korea moves closer to reaching a separate agreement with the U.S. and four other nations aimed at ending its nuclear program. Negotiators for the U.S., South Korea and Japan are to meet in Washington May 19 to discuss progress in the nuclear talks, which also involve Russia and China.
The envoys will discuss the communist state's release of 18,000 documents related to its nuclear weapons program and review whether the papers help verify that Kim Jong Il's regime is disclosing the program's extent.
Talks had stalled after North Korea missed a deadline to declare its programs by Dec. 31. Food assistance has been delayed by concerns that the aid wasn't reaching the people who need it most.
North Korea ``has explained to the United States that it faces a major shortfall in food supplies,'' the U.S. aid agency said in its statement. ``The two sides have agreed on terms for a substantial improvement in monitoring and access in order to allow for confirmation of receipt by the intended recipients.''
Praise From Biden
U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden praised the food agreement. International staff, including many who speak fluent Korean, will open at least five field offices to track distribution, including with unannounced visits, he said in a statement.
``The United States has negotiated the most comprehensive and transparent monitoring system ever accepted by the North Korean government,'' said Biden, a Delaware Democrat who also is backing the Bush administration's six-nation nuclear talks. ``Their level of cooperation is unprecedented.''

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