Posts Tagged ‘Florida’

Trump Yanks Florida From Offshore Drilling Plan After Objections

January 10, 2018

Image result for miami beach from the air, photos


By Jennifer A Dlouhy

  • State’s Democratic senator says politics motivated switch
  • Governor Scott, a Republican, expected to run for Senate seat

The Trump administration is ruling out plans to sell new drilling rights off the coast of Florida, including eastern Gulf of Mexico waters coveted by oil companies, amid pressure from Republican Governor Rick Scott.

Gov. Rick Scott
Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

The about-face came just five days after the Interior Department said it was considering selling oil and gas leases in more than 90 percent of U.S. coastal waters, including on all sides of Florida — the straits in the south, the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

Scott had angrily denounced the plan, suggesting last week that it could jeopardize Florida’s natural resources. He demanded an immediate meeting with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to argue against the proposal.

Zinke announced the change in a post on Twitter, saying it followed a meeting with Scott. Florida’s senators — Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and Marco Rubio, a Republican — as well as other lawmakers from the state joined Scott in raising concerns.

“President Trump has directed me to rebuild our offshore oil and gas program in a manner that supports our national energy policy and also takes into consideration the local and state voice,” Zinke said in an emailed statement.

“I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver. As a result of discussion with Governor Scott’s and his leadership, I am removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms,” Zinke said.

Nelson, who has long fought efforts to drill near Florida’s coasts, suggested the move was politically motivated, and designed to allow Scott to claim a victory in a potential campaign for the Senate seat Nelson now occupies.

“I have spent my entire life fighting to keep oil rigs away from our coasts. But now, suddenly, Secretary Zinke announces plans to drill off Florida’s coast and four days later agrees to ‘take Florida off the table,’” Nelson said in an emailed statement. “I don’t believe it. This is a political stunt orchestrated by the Trump administration to help Rick Scott, who has wanted to drill off Florida’s coast his entire career.”

Scott, who cannot run for governor again this year because of term limits, is expected to challenge Nelson, but has not announced his candidacy. His representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

President Donald Trump compelled the Interior Department to develop a new five-year plan for selling oil and gas leases in U.S. coastal waters last April, with an eye on auctioning rights chiefly in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans. Federal law lays out eight factors the Interior Department must consider when developing those leasing plans, including the views of local officials and residents.

The administration’s master plan — which is likely to shrink further over the coming year as a final leasing blueprint is developed — has stoked opposition from coast to coast. More than 140 municipalities on the East Coast have already lodged their opposition to new drilling in the Atlantic Ocean. And the three governors representing the states on the West Coast also say they will fight efforts to sell new drilling rights in the Pacific Ocean.

More than three dozen Democratic senators asked the administration Tuesday to abandon efforts to rewrite and replace its 2017-2022 offshore leasing plan, which schedules 11 auctions, including 10 of territory in the Gulf of Mexico and one in Alaska’s Cook Inlet.

The eastern Gulf of Mexico was believed to be the most tempting new prospect for oil companies in the expansive Trump administration draft, because it is close to existing pipelines and processing facilities — not to mention the refineries in Texas and Louisiana.

There’s also little mystery about whether those eastern Gulf waters contain oil and gas. Energy companies already discovered a jackpot of natural gas roughly 30 years ago — at least 700 billion cubic feet and as much as 3 trillion cubic feet — in the Destin Dome, located about 25 miles south of Pensacola, Florida. And the same geological trends that have yielded major oil discoveries in other parts of the Gulf could be replicated in its easternmost reaches.

But opposition from Florida politicians concerned about oil spills fouling beaches as well as crippling the state’s tourism economy helped put that area off limits long ago, and a federal law now blocks new leasing through 2022.

— With assistance by Ari Natter, and Toluse Olorunnipa


Trump’s Offshore-Drilling Plan Faces Choppy Political Waters

January 9, 2018

Even some Republican lawmakers and governors resist Interior proposal as sales pitch begins

An offshore drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico in late 2016.
An offshore drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico in late 2016. PHOTO: WILLIAM WIDMER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

WASHINGTON—Trump administration officials are looking to rally support among members of Congress and state-level officials for a plan to expand offshore drilling in waters along the U.S. coast. Some of their toughest customers will be in their own party.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, leading a sales pitch expected to last at least 18 months, is set to meet Tuesday with Republican Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, who said he was opposed to the drilling soon after the administration announced the plan last Thursday.

The administration is proposing to expand drilling to every coastal state, making it vulnerable to a number of court challenges from governors if the administration proceeds without winning over opponents. Members of Congress could also block the administration’s plan through legislation or spending bills.

In addition to Democratic governors in California, North Carolina, Oregon and Washington who have vowed to fight the plan, congressional Republicans from Florida, New Jersey and South Carolina have said they are opposed to it.

“ABSOLUTELY WRONG APPROACH for #SouthJersey & Atlantic Ocean,” Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R., N.J.) said on Twitter after Interior’s announcement. “Previous attempts to lift ban met w/ fierce bipartisan rejection across New Jersey & up/down East Coast. Will be met w/ STRONGER opposition now. Coastal communities have spoken clearly & ready to take fight head-on!”

The proposal won support from lawmakers in states like Louisiana and Alaska where oil is key to their economy. “This proposal shows President Trump and Secretary Zinke are serious about creating jobs and making America energy dominant,” Louisiana Rep. Sen. Bill Cassidy said.

The Interior Department pointed to letters it received last year in which 155 members of Congress, including 36 Republican senators, supported reconsidering offshore areas that had been blocked from drilling. A spokesman for one who signed, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, said Monday that the letter from a few months ago shouldn’t be considered an endorsement of Interior’s new proposal. He is still evaluating it.

Florida is likely to be at the center of the debate, in part because it has the most at stake: Oil companies consider the waters off the state the most logical and prized options for new drilling, and the state has a tourism industry that has been the state’s top priority for decades.

The drilling plan governs the federal waters of the Outer Continental Shelf, which typically start 3 to 9 miles off the coast and reach more than 200 miles out to sea. While opponents are most worried about catastrophic spills washing up on beaches and affecting the ocean, some are also concerned about oil rigs spoiling coastal and maritime views, and disruptions from pipes and other infrastructure that need to connect onshore.

Local opposition to drilling has stiffened further in recent years, said Bob Graham, a Democratic former senator and governor of Florida who co-chaired a presidential commission that investigated the 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf, the largest oil spill in U.S. history. The devastation it did to tourism businesses around the Gulf Coast is still fresh in people’s minds there, he said.

“There are going to be some ticked off folks…in Florida if this becomes reality,” Mr. Graham said.

The state has Senate and gubernatorial races this year, meaning the proposal is likely to become a campaign issue. Mr. Scott is term-limited after eight years as governor and is a potential challenger to Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson this fall. Mr. Nelson and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio both have opposed the plan.

Oil companies are eager to drill in the eastern Gulf of Mexico because of its proximity to areas in the western Gulf where drilling has been successful, said Erik Milito of the American Petroleum Institute, an oil and gas trade association. But they also are mindful of the fishing, tourism and military operations that are prominent around Florida, he added.

“We’re hoping we have as many options left on the table as possible,” Mr. Milito said. “But we understand there’s politics at play.”

The Interior Department said it would hold public sessions over the next year and a half, beginning next week.

“What we rolled out last week was a draft plan,” department spokeswoman Heather Swift said. “We will go through a rigorous and robust public comment period where we will hear from local stakeholders who both support and oppose aspects of the plan.”

That process could well end up winnowing down the regions that will be opened to drilling. The first draft, released last week, proposes 47 lease sales from 2019 to 2024, the most for any similar five-year program in history. It includes sales off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts—for states like Florida, California, New Jersey and Oregon that haven’t had them in more than 33 years.

“You can rest assured that it will be scaled back,” said Tom Michels, lobbyist at BlueWater Strategies LLC, an energy-focused lobbying firm in Washington, D.C.

The Trump administration has placed a big political bet on its alliance with the U.S. energy industry, especially fossil fuels. But political and economic realities have already impeded some of the biggest overhauls it proposed to boost the industry.

The Environmental Protection Agency pulled back from changing renewable-fuel standards after fierce opposition from Republicans in corn-growing states that benefit from ethanol consumption. An Energy Department plan to subsidize nuclear and coal-fired power plants drew protests from oil and gas interest groups among others, then was rejected Monday by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has an extended deadline to respond by this week.

On the drilling plan, opposition is coming from groups more aligned with tourism and maritime industries. Politicians have repeatedly cited fears of what an oil spill could mean for beach-town economies and dismissed the need to take the risk at a time when oil and fuel prices are down dramatically from a few years ago.

“Unfortunately, this proposal explicitly ignores local opposition,” Rep. Mark Sanford (R., S.C.) said in a statement. “I don’t think the arguments in favor of [expanded drilling] are there, particularly when weighed against what most engineers suspect would be at most a four-month supply of oil reserves for our country.”

Write to Timothy Puko at


Trump Offshore Drilling Plan Includes Most of U.S. Coastline

Ninety percent of the U.S. coastline will be open to oil and gas companies.
The Trump administration plans to allow oil drilling in nearly all waters off the U.S. coast, according to a proposal unveiled Thursday.The Trump offshore drilling plan would let oil suppliers drill in protected areas of the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans — places where governors, attorneys general and lawmakers along the East and West Coasts oppose offshore drilling.

Offshore drilling stocks, other oil and gas stocks and oil prices rose following the Trump news Thursday afternoon. West Texas Intermediate, a benchmark for oil prices, went up 0.4% following the announcement. Offshore drilling companies Noble Corp. and Ensco saw shares rise 0.2% and 0.21%.

“We want to grow our nation’s offshore energy industry, instead of slowly surrendering it to foreign shores. We will produce enough energy to meet our needs at home, and we will export enough energy to lead the world,” Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who is leading the proposal, said in a conference call with reporters.

The Obama administration considered opening some of the affected areas to oil exploration, but abandoned the idea in 2016 because of concerns from states, coastal residents and the military, which uses waters that would be affected.

That plan was nowhere near as broad in scope as the new Trump oil drilling proposal, which would make available drilling rights in more than 90% of the continental shelf. Only one out of 26 planning areas across the Pacific, Atlantic and Artic Oceans and the Gulf of Mexico would be totally off limits to oil drilling.

President Donald Trump’s decision will likely spark protests from and legal battles with environmentalists and other opponents of offshore drilling. Republican and Democratic governors of Maryland, New Jersey, South Carolina, North Carolina, Delaware and Florida all opposed the proposal, the Washington Post reported, with many citing billion-dollar tourism industries dependent on their states’ coastal beaches.

Trump Administration Proposes Massive Expansion of Oil Drilling — “We’re going to become the strongest energy super power,” Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke says

January 4, 2018

Plan would open 90% of offshore areas for drilling starting in 2019

WASHINGTON—The Trump administration wants to open up nearly all the country’s offshore areas for oil drilling, leasing areas off places like Florida and California for the first time in decades, and reversing an Obama-era policy.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced Thursday that his department is planning the largest number of oil-lease sales in U.S. history starting next year. It would open up 90% of offshore land for drilling as part of a five-year plan. It reverses an Obama-era plan that would have kept only 6% of the same acres available for drilling.

“We’re going to become the strongest energy super power,” Mr. Zinke said in a call with reporters. “We certainly have the assets to do that.”

While the plan is likely to please the oil industry and its supporters who want more access to domestic oil lands, it is already meeting opposition even from Republicans. Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday he opposes opening drilling off Florida, and he has support from environmental groups and the tourism industry.

“It’s absolutely radical,” said Diane Hoskins, climate and energy campaign director at Oceana, an environmental group focusing on the world’s oceans and an opponent of expanded coastal drilling. “Expanding offshore drilling threatens the livelihood and the coastal economies that rely on a healthy ocean.”

Write to Tim Puko at

Tax-Hike Fears Trigger Talk of Exodus From Manhattan and Greenwich

November 27, 2017


By Simone Foxman, Patrick Clark, and Sridhar Natarajan

  • End of state and local tax deduction to raise rates for many
  • Miami real estate looking for an influx of high-tax refugees

Even Bruce McGuire, founder of the Connecticut Hedge Fund Association, understands if wealthy Northeasterners flee the region due to changes in the tax code.

“It would almost be irresponsible if you weren’t thinking about moving,” he said.

Bruce McGuire

Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

The problem for the Connecticut hedge-fund set — and, more broadly, for a lot of the Wall Street crowd — is that Republican proposals in both the House and Senate would drive up taxes for many high-earners in the New York City area. By eliminating the deduction for most state and local taxes, an individual making a yearly salary of $1,000,000 — a figure not uncommon in the financial industry — would owe the Internal Revenue Service an additional $21,000, according to a preliminary analysis by accounting firm Marcum LLP.

Billionaire hedge fund managers have blazed the trail south in recent years. David Tepper, Paul Tudor Jones and Eddie Lampert are New York-area transplants to Florida, which has no personal income tax.

A final bill could still do away with the hike, but so far there are no signs coming out of Washington that will happen. Financially struggling New Jersey had the sixth-highest individual income rate this year, according to the Federation of Tax Administrators. New York ranked eighth and cash-strapped Connecticut 12th. Nine of the 10 states with the highest individual taxes, including Washington, D.C., voted Democratic in the 2016 presidential election.

To see a map of state and local tax deductions by congressional district, click here.

Tax Refugees

No one interviewed for this story would talk openly about making plans to move, but Goldman Sachs Group Inc. is estimating that New York City alone could lose as much as 4 percent of its top earners if the bill becomes law. In Florida, where there’s no state income tax, there’s the sense that this is a great opportunity to lure disgruntled tax refugees.

The Miami Downtown Development Authority is throwing a party next month during the annual Art Basel show, and Nitin Motwani, a real estate developer, has invited wealthy Northeasterners who’ve expressed interest in moving to the area. Because the proposed tax changes are practically begging them to relocate, Motwani expects a crowd.

Image result for welcome to florida, sign, photos

State and local taxes, also called SALT, “can and should be a major catalyst,” said Motwani, a development authority board member. Tax reform will “certainly be something we’re highlighting” at the party, in the Perez Art Museum. “Inertia is a tough thing, but you add on another tax bill and maybe that pushes you over the edge.”

Jeff Miller, director of luxury sales for Brown Harris Stevens in the Miami area, said he’s fielded a half-dozen calls from clients motivated by higher taxes to step up their search for South Florida property.

Two clients who work at New York City financial firms have scheduled tours of a newly completed 7,000-square-foot (650-square-meter) home on the Venetian Islands, Miller said. The $22.5 million asking price buys views of Biscayne Bay and a spot to moor a yacht.

“Usually it’s a snowstorm that would push them to pick up the phone,” Miller said. “The tax plan has the same effect.”

Salary Earners

The amount of the raise depends as much on how taxpayers earn money as where they live, according to Marcum.

Salary earners would bear the biggest hike. Investors fare better. A person who makes $1 million by investing would save about $7,000, according to Marcum.

“Computations clearly show that high-net-worth individuals in a high-tax jurisdiction would get a benefit and save a decent amount of money if they moved,” said Carolyn Mazzenga, head of Marcum’s family-wealth-services business.

No Exodus

But David Silver, a senior manager at accounting firm MBAF in New York, said he doesn’t see the beginning of an exodus.

“I would argue it’s probably not all that likely to uproot your family, leave your friends, and put your kids in new schools just because of proposed tax changes,” he said. Still, technology that allows collaboration between colleagues in far-flung offices has made moving to Florida an easier decision.

Tepper, who heads Appaloosa Management, relocated to Miami Beach in 2015 from Short Hills, New Jersey. Jones kept Tudor Investment Corp. in Greenwich, Connecticut, when he moved to Palm Beach, Florida, last year. In 2012, Lampert, best known as Sears Holdings Corp.’s chief executive officer, took his hedge fund to Miami from the same tony Connecticut town.

State budgets feel the impact. When Tepper moved his firm to Florida, forecasters warned it could jeopardize New Jersey’s budget because the firm generated more than $100 million in state income tax. In 2013, state income tax generated by residents of seven of the wealthiest towns in Fairfield County amounted to $1.8 billion, according to the Hartford Courant, or about 9 percent of the Connecticut state budget.

“There is a certain amount of burying one’s head in the sand and naivete in Hartford,” Connecticut’s capital, McGuire said. “I don’t think they believe it can happen.”

Graphic: How the House and Senate Tax Bills Stack Up

Frustration was high among commuters in the northern New Jersey suburb of Summit early one recent morning. They know there’ll be little sympathy for them across the country and they aren’t necessarily ready to pack up and move, but they’re ticked off.

“Most people in this community don’t need a decrease, but I don’t think it’s right to have more taxes taken out and be told it’s a tax cut,” said Gary Bakalar, head of client relationships at insurer XL Catlin in New York. “I’m a lifelong Republican and this is starting to make me question the wisdom of that.”

— With assistance by Alexis Leondis

GOP is shackled to Trump

November 13, 2017

By Juan Williams
The Hill
November 13, 2017

Well, there goes the fake news.

It is real news that Republicans got shellacked last Tuesday in gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey.

And it is real news that President Trump’s grip as the party’s leader loosened for the first time since he claimed the White House.

Republican running in 2018 saw the reality of an anti-Trump wave among white suburban voters. House Republicans rely on votes from suburban areas to keep their majorities in states such as Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Florida.


Republicans currently hold 23 seats in congressional districts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 and 11 in districts she lost by fewer than five percentage points.

The anger at Trump was evident in exit polls conducted by Edison Media Research.

In Virginia, Republican Ed Gillespie won 91 percent of voters who “approve of the way Trump is handling his job as president.” Democrat Ralph Northam won 87 percent of those who disapprove.

In essence, Gillespie had all the Trump voters. But there just weren’t enough of them and Northam won easily, by nine points.

People upset with Trump turned out in big numbers. In fact, exit polls showed one-third of the electorate wanted to send a message of opposition to Trump with their vote for governor.

Now the urgent fear among Republicans on Capitol Hill is a 2018 landslide for Democrats as voters turn on Trump.

The vote in Virginia comes on the heels of Trump’s disapproval hitting 57 percent in the latest Fox News poll.

The president’s support among white men without a college degree is down to 56 percent from the 71 percent who voted for him a year ago. He has lost support among white evangelicals, with 66 percent supporting him now instead of the 80 percent that voted for him. He has also seen his support among independents slide from 46 percent in 2016 to 30 percent today.

Trump’s support among self-identified Republicans remains high at 83 percent in the Fox poll, but fewer people overall are identifying themselves as Republicans.

That sets the stage for the battle to claim the future of the party going into the 2018 races.

On one side, you have Trump and Steve Bannon, his former top political aide. On the other side are the Presidents Bush, both 41 and 43, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) trapped in the ring and ducking punches from both sides.

The fight comes down to a contest between Trump’s anti-immigrant, isolationist, white grievance politics and the Bush policies favoring immigration, free trade and growing the party through outreach to racial minorities.

After last week’s defeat in Virginia, Trump and Bannon quickly threw dirt on Gillespie. Trump said Gillespie did “not embrace me or what I stand for.” Bannon piled on by saying the “lesson” of the loss was that future Republican candidates must avoid campaigning with President George W. Bush and “embrace the entire Trump agenda,” to the point of taking Trump on the campaign trail.

But Gillespie, the former party chairman, did use Trump-like advertising that focused on stirring fear of immigrants by tying them to MS-13 gangs; he did defend Confederate statues; and he did attack athletes kneeling to protest police brutality.

Gillespie lost because Virginia voters rejected Trump’s politics.

The Bush team also punched back.

“This guy doesn’t know what it means to be president,” the younger President Bush said of Trump in an interview for a new book.

“I don’t like him,” the elder President Bush told author Mark Updegrove. “I don’t know much about [Trump] but I know he’s a blowhard. And I’m not too excited about him being our leader.”

The Bush’s comments drew a sharp rebuke from Trump’s White House

“If one presidential candidate can disassemble a political party, it speaks volumes about how strong a legacy its past two presidents really had,” an unnamed White House official told CNN. “And that begins with the Iraq war, one of the greatest foreign policy mistakes in American history.”

The split between Bush-style establishment conservatism and Trump populism has already hurt the party with about two dozen House Republicans announcing this is a good time for them to leave.

That rush for the door comes as polls show “voters say they prefer Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives over Republicans by the widest margin in over a decade,” the Washington Post reported before Tuesday’s GOP collapse.

Ryan said last week that despite the intraparty fight, it is too late for his House caucus to do anything but side with Trump on the future of the party.

“We already made that choice,” Ryan said on Fox News Radio. “We’re with Trump. We already made that choice… That’s a choice we made during the campaign, which is we merged our agendas.”

What must Republican congressional candidates be thinking today when their Speaker tells them they are handcuffed to a president who has the lowest approval rating in 70 years? At what point do they ignore the Speaker’s directive, cut ties with the president and strike out on their own?

A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll found that just 37 percent of Americans approve of the way Trump is handling his job, while 59 percent disapprove. In the history of the poll, no American president has had a net negative rating so high in his ninth month in office since Harry Truman in 1945.

But Ryan has the real news: Every Republican on the ballot in 2018 will have Donald Trump as a running mate.

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.


Puerto Rico Sees Scores of College Students Leave in Hurricane’s Aftermath

November 8, 2017

Young people finding spots at mainland universities add to growing exodus from island

University of Puerto Rico students helped with the storm cleanup on a campus in San Juan last month.
University of Puerto Rico students helped with the storm cleanup on a campus in San Juan last month. PHOTO: JOSE JIMENEZ TIRADO/GETTY IMAGES

Hundreds of Puerto Rican students have resettled on college campuses across the mainland U.S. in recent weeks—and many more are considering leaving the island territory in the spring—grateful for the opportunity to resume their studies in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

But some worry the students won’t return to an island that is already suffering an exodus of young people and their talents.

The University of Puerto Rico, like the commonwealth government that provides roughly two-thirds of its annual operating budget, was in financial crisis when Hurricane Maria hit seven weeks ago. Last spring, student-led budget protests shut down some campusesfor months, and eight campuses were placed on probation by the university’s accreditor in part because of financial concerns.

The system is digesting an 18.8% cut to appropriations for the current school year. Enrollment was down by about 4% to 59,450 this fall. Then the storm came.

The last of the system’s 11 campuses reopened on Monday, despite damaged buildings and spotty electricity.

Early tallies show that about 95% of students returned to class. But hundreds have withdrawn from the largest campuses and concern about the loss of talent is growing as more schools join the likes of Brown University, Tulane University and the State University of New York in bringing Puerto Rican students to their campuses free of charge or at in-state tuition rates.

More than 860 students displaced by the storm in Puerto Rico are now attending one of 28 public colleges in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Education, though schools haven’t finished reviewing the prior enrollment records of those students.

“If I was a young person, I can totally get wanting to go study abroad or do an exchange program,” said Catherine Mazak, an English professor at the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez. “On the other hand, so many people have left.”

Trees blocked the main entrance of the University of Puerto Rico’s Río Piedras campus in September.
Trees blocked the main entrance of the University of Puerto Rico’s Río Piedras campus in September. PHOTO:PABLO PANTOJA/ANADOLU/GETTY IMAGES

Brown now has about 30 University of Puerto Rico students on campus. Central Connecticut State University has 21, paying in-state tuition and earning nine credits in a condensed, eight-week semester. More than a dozen law students are at Florida State University and Touro Law Center in New York.

More students are expected to find spots at schools on the mainland next semester.

Tulane has received about 500 applications so far for an offer to host Puerto Rican students next spring, said President Mike Fitts, and expects to enroll at least 50 once it reviews applicants for academic qualifications. Cornell University said it would take up to 58 students.

And the University of Florida is offering free online courses next spring and summer to students who attended University of Puerto Rico or a handful of private colleges on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It says it can accommodate 1,000 students and as of Friday had received more than 200 applications.

Between 17,250 and 32,721 adults ages 18 to 24 are expected to leave Puerto Rico in the year after Maria, according to the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at City University of New York’s Hunter College, compared with the 9,726 annual average from the prior three years. The island has been in economic distress for years, with the local government struggling to make payments on a staggering debt load and residents looking for better financial futures elsewhere.

“What Maria has done is aggravate a trend that was already in effect,” said Edwin Meléndez, the center’s director, referring to a broader exodus from the island. “Families are in need of employment, and the economy has pretty much collapsed.”

The mainland universities say they intend to offer temporary help, not poach talent.

“We are strongly discouraging any of these students from transferring,” said Tulane’s Mr. Fitts.

Brown Provost Richard Locke agreed, but said his school can’t bar students from applying to transfer.

Though the University of Puerto Rico is holding classes, some buildings’ roofs were damaged and research equipment ruined. Generators power some facilities. The library collection at Mayagüez is closed because of water and mold damage to books.

Interim President Darrel Hillman Barrera, a professor at the dental school, said the damage totaled $119 million, about $100 million of which will be covered by insurance. He said he is in talks with Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover the rest.

Dr. Hillman said he is asking the island’s central government and its fiscal oversight board to be more flexible on a mandate that the system cut $500 million from its budget over the next five years, given the circumstances. The university has until February to revise its fiscal plan for the oversight board, in light of the storm.

“It’s going to be a very different University of Puerto Rico” after the storm, said Deepak Lamba-Nieves, research director at the Center for a New Economy, a nonpartisan think tank in San Juan.

Mr. Lamba-Nieves, who teaches a graduate course on local economic development at the University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras, photocopied readings for students without computer access, but wondered if that was enough.

“Can I expect my students to do their weekly reading with lanterns and candle light?” he asked.

Wilfredo García González, 30 years old, is in the final year of his undergraduate computer science degree at Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico in San Juan, and said if he wasn’t so close to finishing he would leave now.

“It is very difficult to study since almost the whole country is without electric service and without connection to wireless internet,” he said. “My expectation is to be able to finish my degree and then move to the United States with my wife to find a good job and a better quality of life.”

US hiring falls 33,000 after hurricanes slam Texas, Florida

October 6, 2017

By Christopher Rugaber
The Associated Press

Phil Wiggett

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. lost 33,000 jobs in September after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma hit Texas, Florida and other Southeastern states. It was the first decline in six years.

The Labor Department says the unemployment rate fell to 4.2 percent from 4.4 percent, the lowest level since February 2001.

Looking past the hurricanes’ impact, the job market and economy generally look healthy. Some economists expect job growth to rebound in the coming months as businesses in the area reopen and construction companies ramp up repair and renovation work.

Last month’s drop was driven by huge losses in a restaurants and bars, which shed 105,000 jobs, a sign of the damage to Florida’s tourism industry.

Trump heads to Puerto Rico to survey hurricane damage

October 3, 2017

By Jill Colvin

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is heading to San Juan on Tuesday to meet with some of the 3.4 million Puerto Ricans struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria, as criticism that the federal government’s response has been sluggish continues.

The president is expected to spend more than five hours on the island, meeting with first responders, local officials and some of the residents struggling to recover from a hurricane that, in Trump’s words, left the island U.S. territory “flattened.”

“There’s nothing left. It’s been wiped out,” Trump said last week. “Nobody has ever seen anything like it.”

Image result for Puerto Rico, hurricane maria, photos

The trip will be Trump’s fourth to a region battered by storms during an unusually violent hurricane season that has also seen parts of Texas, Florida, Louisiana and the U.S. Virgin Islands inundated by floodwaters and whipped by winds.

Trump and first lady Melania Trump are scheduled to attend briefings, visit a church, and meet with Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, as well as the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands. They’ll also meet with Navy and Marine Corps personnel on the flight Deck of the USS Kearsarge.

Image result for USS Kearsarge, near puerto rico, photos

USS Kearsarge

Even before the storm hit on Sept. 20, Puerto Rico was in dire condition thanks to a decade-long economic recession that had left its infrastructure, including the island’s power lines, in a sorry state. Maria was the most powerful hurricane to hit the island in nearly a century and unleashed floods and mudslides that knocked out the island’s entire electrical grid and telecommunications, along with many roads.

Nearly two weeks later, 95 percent of electricity customers remain without power, including some hospitals. And much of the countryside is still struggling to access basic necessities, including food, fresh water and cash.

Trump and other administration officials have worked in recent days to reassure Americans that recovery efforts are going well and combat the perception that the president failed to fully grasp the magnitude of the storm’s destruction in its immediate aftermath.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday the trip would focus on local recovery efforts, “which we’re fully committed to.”

“The top priority for the federal government is certainly to protect the lives and the safety of those in affected areas and provide life-sustaining services as we work together to rebuild their lives,” she said.

While early response efforts were hampered by logistical challenges, officials say that conditions, especially in the capital, have improved.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, there are now more than 10,000 federal officials on the ground on the island, and forty-five percent of customers now have access to drinking water. Businesses are also beginning to re-open, with 60 percent of retail gas stations now up and running.

For many, however, that isn’t enough. On Monday, the nonprofit Oxfam announced that it would be taking the rare step of intervening in an American disaster, citing its outrage over what it called a “slow and inadequate response.”


Follow Colvin on Twitter at

Image result for Puerto Rico, hurricane maria, photos

Trump Blasts San Juan Mayor in Series of New Tweets

September 30, 2017
Arit John
  • Power outages remain widespread as island continues to dig out
  • President set to view recovery efforts in visit next week
Trump Says Puerto Rico ‘Literally Starting From Scratch’

President Donald Trump, under rising criticism for the federal response to hurricane-damaged Puerto Rico, swung from defending his administration’s approach to lashing out at the San Juan mayor for her “poor leadership ability.”

 Image result for Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, photos

The president, in a series of Saturday morning tweets, said Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, “who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump.”

The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump.

“Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help,” Trump told his almost 40 million Twitter followers. “They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.”

Trump went on to say that there are “10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job” and an “amazing job.”

Follow the Trump Administration’s Every Move

The president, who’s spending the weekend at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, is scheduled to spend an hour on Saturday in five different telephone briefings on the hurricane recovery efforts.

Trump will speak with FEMA Administrator Brock Long, the current and former governors of Puerto Rico, the commonwealth’s representative in Congress, and the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands. He isn’t scheduled to speak with Cruz. Vice President Mike Pence will receive an in-person briefing at FEMA headquarters in Washington.

Life-Threatening Conditions

Trump a day earlier defended his administration’s response to the crisis in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, which slammed into the territory on Sept. 20, amid rising criticism on the island and in Congress that more resources are needed to help residents cope with life-threatening conditions.

Cruz blasted acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke for telling reporters at the White House that that the relief efforts were “a good-news story in terms of our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have taken place.”

In an interview on CNN, Cruz called Duke’s remarks “irresponsible.”

“This is a people-are-dying story,” Cruz said. “This is a story of devastation that continues to worsen because people are not getting food or water.”

Trump, speaking to reporters as he left the White House on Friday for New Jersey, said he wasn’t aware of the remarks by Duke or the mayor but that Puerto Rico’s governor has been “unbelievably generous” in his praise for federal efforts.

“I can tell you this: We have done an incredible job considering there’s absolutely nothing to work with,” said Trump, who’s scheduled to visit Puerto Rico on Tuesday. The president may also stop in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which also sustained heavy damage from Maria.

Impassable Roads

More than week after getting slammed by the storm, which hit as Category 4 hurricane, Puerto Ricans continued to endure sweaty, dark nights, with a resolution to the near-total power outage nowhere in sight. Mobile-phone coverage improved gradually, but many residents still had no way of reaching loved ones outside their communities, and rural areas still had impassable roads.

The administration has come under criticism from some Republicans as well as Democrats in Congress.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said Thursday that the White House hasn’t grasped the significance of the damage in Puerto Rico compared with recent hurricane damage in his state, from Hurricane Irma, and in Texas from Hurricane Harvey in August.

Thirty-seven Democrats and one independent in the Senate signed a letter urging Trump to take steps including issuing a broader disaster declaration, naming a White House coordinator for rebuilding, and providing for more help to restore electricity. New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, who toured the island on Friday, said on Twitter that “it feels like the hurricane just hit yesterday. This federal response needs to double or triple right now.”

‘Surrounded by Water’

In a speech Friday to the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington, the president said recovery in Puerto Rico, which already faced a $74 billion mountain of debt and a shrinking economy, will be costly.

“We’re literally starting from scratch,” Trump said, adding that the hurricane had damaged roads and sewage systems and knocked out the electric power grid. “Nobody has ever seen anything like it.”

“The response and recovery effort probably has never been seen for something like this,” Trump said. “This is an island surrounded by water, big water, ocean water.”

The territorial government will have to work with federal authorities to determine “how this massive rebuilding effort — it will be one of the biggest ever — will be funded and organized, and what we’ll do with the tremendous amount of existing debt already on the island,” he said.

More Funding

White House Homeland Security Adviser Thomas Bossert said the administration will ask Congress in the next two to four weeks for additional funding on top of an existing $7.1 billion appropriation to the Federal Emergency Management Agency that becomes available on Oct. 1. That money covers initial requests for the hurricanes that hit Texas, Louisiana and Florida, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Cruz, the San Juan mayor, said that while she was angry over Duke’s characterization of the situation, the working relationship with the federal officials on the ground was good.

“They do get the dire situation,” she said on CNN. The biggest difficulty was getting supplies, which are bottled up in port, out to where it’s needed. She said that rather than waiting for power to be restored, crews could be rounded up to unload by hand.

“The intentions are there,” Cruz said. “We just need to find a way around the logistics.”

Duke, who took an aerial tour of the island Friday and met with first responders and others laboring in the recovery effort, said in a statement that she and Trump “will not be fully satisfied, however, until every Puerto Rican is back home, the power is back on, clean water is fully available, schools and hospitals are fully open, and the Puerto Rican economy is working.”

Transportation Blocked

Florida Governor Rick Scott, who is lending aid to Puerto Rico’s government after Hurricane Irma damaged his state less severely than expected, said the territory’s biggest problem is ground transportation.

“We need more truck drivers and we need more trucks” to get goods out of ports, he said at the White House, where he had lunch with Trump on Friday.

He said the territorial government also is “asking for a lot of police resources,” and Florida will dispatch Spanish-speaking officers from its forces. Puerto Rican college students will also be offered in-state tuition at Florida colleges, and he’s examining how the state can assist Puerto Rican grade-school students, he said.

“This is not a time for politics, this is a time to help people,” Scott said.

Construction worker Carlos Martel-Fernandez found out on the radio that Trump was coming, but it didn’t mean much to him.

“We don’t need him. We need fuel,” Martel-Fernandez said as he inched a bit closer in the line waiting to fill up his two red gas tanks. “If he’s going to make a mess here, then stay home. We don’t need the traffic.”

Natalia de Jesus had spent the week since Maria dealing with landslides near her partner’s house in Naranjito and had heard too many broken promises of help coming. She also heard Trump would be landing in Puerto Rico in a few days.

“The truth is I don’t think he can do anything,” she said.

— With assistance by Justin Sink

Ex-prosecutors unsure if post-hurricane nursing home deaths involved crimes

September 21, 2017

By Terry Spencer
The Associated Press


HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (AP) — Nine elderly patients died after being kept inside a nursing home that turned into a sweatbox when Hurricane Irma knocked out its air conditioning for three days, even though just across the street was a fully functioning and cooled hospital.

From the perspective of Florida Gov. Rick Scott and relatives of those at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, criminal charges are warranted. But under Florida law, a prosecution might be difficult. Two of three ex-state prosecutors contacted by The Associated Press had doubts as to whether Dr. Jack Michel, the home’s owner, or any of his employees will be charged.

All agreed that any criminal prosecutions will hinge on whether the nursing home staff made honest mistakes or were “culpably negligent.” Florida defines that as “consciously doing an act or following a course of conduct that the defendant must have known, or reasonably should have known, was likely to cause death or great bodily injury.”

Hollywood police and the state attorney’s office are investigating.

The home has said it used coolers, fans, ice and other methods to keep the patients comfortable — and that might be enough to avoid prosecution.

“There is a difference between negligence, which is what occurs when you are not giving a particular standard of care vs. culpable negligence,” said David Weinstein, a former state and federal prosecutor now in private practice. “So if they are doing everything humanly possible given the circumstances and this all still happened it may be negligent and provide the basis for a civil lawsuit, but not enough for criminal charges.”

Retired University of Florida law professor Bob Dekle, who prosecuted serial killer Ted Bundy as an assistant state attorney, said he doubted charges would be brought.

“I would rather be a defense attorney on this case than a prosecutor,” Dekle said. “There are some cases that are better tried in civil court than criminal and this might be one of them.”

Former U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey disagreed.

“Given the magnitude of the tragedy and the apparent availability of a hospital 50 yards away, prosecutors are not going to accept that this was an unavoidable tragedy,” he said.

Gary Matzner, the nursing home’s attorney, said in a statement that Michel and the staff are cooperating with the investigation.

“The center and its employees and directors are devastated by this tragedy,” he said.

Irma reached Broward County on Sept. 10. The home has said a felled tree took out a transformer that powered the air conditioner, but it maintained power otherwise. It said it reported the loss to Florida Power & Light and was promised repairs in the next two days, but the utility never arrived.

Scott’s office said that over those two days, home administrators Jorge Carballo and Natasha Anderson were in contact with the state about the failed air conditioner but never said the situation had become dangerous. The state said they were told to call 911 if needed.

On the afternoon of Sept. 12, the home borrowed portable air coolers from Memorial Regional Hospital, the trauma center across the street. Later that night, home administrators said, a physician’s assistant checked the patients and none were overheated and the building temperature never exceeded 80 degrees. Under state law, the temperature was not supposed to exceed 81 degrees.

In the early hours of Sept. 13, the deaths began. Three 911 calls were made before 6 a.m., causing Memorial staff to rush across the street to offer assistance. Doctors and nurses said they found the home’s staff working to cool the patients, although they and police have said the facility was very hot.

No temperature reading has been released as police have said that is part of the investigation.

Three people died on the home’s second floor and six succumbed at the hospital, including a 93-year-old man who died Tuesday. The state said four of the deceased had body temperatures between 107 (41.6 Celsius) and 109 (42.7 Celsius) degrees.

Dr. Randy Katz, the hospital’s emergency director, said last week it was impossible to say whether any of the dead would have survived if they had gotten to the hospital hours earlier.

The number of deaths and injured could be a determining factor in whether to bring charges. Weinstein said prosecutors could argue that after the first patients became seriously ill, administrators should have known an evacuation was necessary. Dekle agreed the number could be key.

“The more dead victims there are in a homicide case, the less likely a jury is to find reasonable doubt,” Dekle said.