Posts Tagged ‘Houston’

Trump may be right about immigration — but pictures are worth a thousand words

June 20, 2018

In his spirited defense Tuesday of his immigration policies, President Trump was right about many things, including that America must control its borders and that Democrats have zero interest in stemming illegal crossings.

With immigration bills taking shape in the House, the president insisted, “We have one chance to get it right.”

Yet as he spoke, most of the media continued to exhibit a heightened zeal for the story of children being separated from their parents. The wall-to-wall coverage didn’t vary and wasn’t nuanced — Trump and his team are cruelly breaking up families and terrifying innocent children.

Opinion
Michael Goodwin
New York Post

That fixation gives the far-left peanut gallery — the Chelsea Handler types — the license to trot out their ever-ready Hitler/Nazi comparisons. Even some commentators who usually know better, like retired Gen. Michael Hayden, went down that dark road, revealing more about their own simplistic thinking than the actual policy.

So Trump is not wrong about his opponents, the biased media and the need to control who is coming into the country. But sometimes, being right is not enough.

This is one of those times.

The situation updates the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, an infinite number of words, even when spoken by the president of the United States, would not be enough to overcome the power of the pictures coming out of Texas immigration facilities.

Photos and videos of children, some crying, some very young, who have been separated from their parents slam the brakes on conversation and thought. Rational arguments about law and policy and history don’t have a chance against the emotional wallop of pictures showing children in chain-link enclosures.

The compelling drama recalls the 2015 heartbreaking photo of a policeman carrying the lifeless body of a 3-year-old Kurdish boy from a beach in Turkey. The Syrian civil war has killed more than 500,000 people and displaced millions more, but no book of statistics could ever match the power of that single picture to tell the story of the war’s savage brutality.

Thankfully, we are not there yet. There are no reports of dead children in immigration facilities, but any sober discussion of how to fix the border crisis is impossible in this atmosphere, which includes the upcoming midterm elections.

This is an image-driven stampede of public opinion, and there is little chance to convince even the most open-minded Americans that the current situation is good or necessary. For both policy and political reasons, the president should call an immediate time-out on the “zero tolerance” approach Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in May.

Sessions defined the changes as meaning all illegal border crossers would be prosecuted. Whether he knew the implications is unclear, but he damn well should have.

For one thing, it meant that, because children cannot legally be held in adult detention facilities, families would have to be separated.

For another, announcing the policy at a time when there is a surge in the number of people trying to cross the border guaranteed a rapid accumulation of cases and people. In the last six weeks alone, a reported 2,000 children have been put in the custody of federal officials.

It is, of course, silly to make important national policies on the basis of photo-driven emotions. But trying to put that emotion back in the bottle is like King Canute trying to order the tides not to flow. It can’t be done.Much of the surge has to do with the hideous violence tearing apart Central America, with one study showing that in 2016, 43 of the 50 most violent cities in the world were in Central America. Millions of people born in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras are now in the US, with more than half here illegally, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

What can be done is creating a cooling-off period where the president and his team reassess their short-term options while they focus on the bills making their way through the House. The president’s call for a change that would allow families to be held and deported together now must become part of any new framework, and key Senate Republicans say they are in agreement.

Some such facilities were started under former President Barack Obama, but they are unpopular with immigration advocates, who basically want all crossers to be released pending their hearings. But with huge backlogs and no real enforcement against those who skip their hearings, the system has essentially collapsed.

So something must be done, but the current uproar will make any improvements in border security more difficult to achieve. With several Republicans joining Dems in blasting the zero-tolerance policy, the president’s chances of getting tighter screening, including more wall funding, are diminishing by the day.

That will remain true until the images of crying children fade from view.

Gov vote push is con-fusing

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is getting hammered from all sides these days, with election opponents ganging up on him and the start of a second trial involving corruption charges related to his failed economic-development programs.

Yet what might be the weirdest story of all involves nobody but Cuomo himself.

The governor is so committed to getting convicted felons to vote that he is mandating that parole officers give registration forms to former inmates — and even help them fill out the information.

A memo obtained by The Post says the effort “requires high priority attention.”

The move comes after Cuomo picks to the parole board freed unrepentant cop-killer Herman Bell, among other violent inmates. Police unions were furious, but Cuomo said little, and now this.

Could it be that the governor is so afraid of losing that he sees ex-cons as a key to re-election?

Now that’s weird, even for Cuomo.

Adams’ new HS-test view is on the money

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams has seen the light — and it is green.

Adams initially supported Mayor Bill de Blasio’s foolish move to eliminate the test for top New York City high schools, but a Post report says he backed down after Chinese-American donors pulled out of upcoming fundraisers.

Adams disputes the sequence of events, but apparently met with furious Asian parents, and changed his position on the test. He now says de Blasio’s legislation should not “advance in its present form.”

Whatever Adams’ reason, good for him — and good for merit.

A ‘stand’ against traffic

Reader Harold Theurer offers an idea about how to speed up New York traffic without banning Uber or other for-hire cars.

He writes: “City Hall and the Council should bring back taxi stands to streets where the subway stations are. The space is already there, with the bike lanes that four cyclists per hour currently use.

“The result would minimize circling traffic, with no excess carbon emissions and more convenience for citizens. Or does that make too much sense?”

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https://nypost.com/2018/06/19/trump-may-be-right-about-immigration-but-pictures-are-worth-a-thousand-words/
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Immigrant babies, toddlers separated from parents being sent to ‘tender age’ shelters

June 20, 2018

The Trump administration has been sending babies and toddlers to three “tender age” shelters located across South Texas after the children have been separated from their parents.

The Associated Press has spoken to lawyers and medical providers who have visited the shelters in the Rio Grande Valley, where they described rooms of crying children younger than 5 years old.

“The thought that they are going to be putting such little kids in an institutional setting? I mean it is hard for me to even wrap my mind around it,” said Kay Bellor, vice president for programs at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

“Toddlers are being detained.”

A fourth shelter for young children is planned to open in Houston.

Mayor Sylvester Turner decried the new immigration policy and is asking the Trump administration to reconsider.

“I don’t want our city to participate in this policy,” Turner said. “We draw the line and for me, the line is with these children.”

The center would house up to 240 children in a warehouse previously used for people displaced by Hurricane Harvey.

The influx of children have entered the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services due to President Trump’s zero- tolerance policy on immigration.

More than 2,300 children have been taken from their parents at the US-Mexico border  since the policy went into effect in May.

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https://nypost.com/2018/06/19/immigrant-babies-toddlers-separated-from-parents-being-sent-to-tender-age-shelters/

Trump to Greet Visiting Saudi Prince with a Crowded Agenda

March 20, 2018

Both countries touting this week’s meetings as reflection of growing ties between Washington and Riyadh.

President Donald Trump and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman shaking hands last year in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, DC.
President Donald Trump and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman shaking hands last year in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, DC. PHOTO: NICHOLAS KAMM/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump is expected to meet Tuesday with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office, where the two leaders are likely to focus on combating Iran’s influence in the Middle East and strengthening ties between their two countries.

Mr. Trump has made relations with the ambitious 32-year-old heir to the Saudi throne a cornerstone of his Middle East strategy and visited the kingdom last spring on the first stop of his first overseas trip as president.

For Prince Mohammed, who arrived in Washington, D.C. overnight, the visit is an opportunity to affirm his role as a ruler the U.S. can count on to advance shared goals like curbing Iran’s influence in the Arab world—and to pitch Saudi Arabia as a business destination.

But the deepening ties between the two countries face a number of challenges, including Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, where thousands of civilians have been killed by the country’s airstrikes.

The Senate could vote as soon as Tuesday on a bipartisan resolution that seeks to cut offU.S. military support for Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen, which is aimed at fighting Iran-aligned Houthi rebels. The debate could cast a cloud over Prince Mohammed’s Washington visit.

But both countries are touting this week’s meetings as a reflection of the growing ties between Washington and Riyadh.

“Relations with the United States are at an all-time high,” Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister told reporters in Washington on Monday.

During his visit, Prince Mohammed will meet with top Trump administration officials and key congressional leaders eager to hear more about his plans for the kingdom.

Prince Mohammed emerged as the kingdom’s top decision maker after his father, King Salman, assumed the throne three years ago. Since then, the Saudi royal has overseen an ambitious domestic reform plan aimed at diversifying Saudi Arabia’s economy away from oil and at liberalizing its ultraconservative society.

This is his first trip to the U.S. since he became heir to the throne in June, an episode that ushered in a period of chaos in the kingdom. In November, the crown prince directed a far-reaching corruption crackdown that targeted hundreds of people–among them princes, officials and prominent businessmen–rattling the royal family and spooking global investors. Many of the accused were released after reaching undisclosed cash settlements with the government.

Reassuring the business community and strengthening economic ties is a key goal of the Saudi royal’s nearly three-week U.S. tour.

The U.S. is hoping to secure up to $35 billion in new business deals with Saudi Arabia as Prince Mohammed travels to New York, Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, Seattle and Houston to discuss new ventures. Meetings with executives from Google, Apple and Lockheed Martin are among those on the agenda. U.S. and Saudi officials are expected to follow up on the status of possible business deals worth hundreds of billions–including $100 billion in arms sales alone–that were touted by both countries during Mr. Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia last year.

The U.S. also sees Prince Mohammed as a key ally to accomplish its top foreign policy goal bridging differences between Israel and the Palestinians. Jared Kushner, whom the president has charged with restarting the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, views Prince Mohammed as an ally who can influence the Palestinians and bring them to the table.

U.S. officials also are also trying to forge a deal to end a regional crisis pitting Qatar against Saudi Arabia and its allies in hopes of reuniting the Gulf nations in an important regional alliance. But Saudi officials have indicated this is not a priority for them, rejecting Washington’s mediation.

The U.S. praised Saudi Arabia on Monday for stepping up its humanitarian efforts in Yemen, but human rights groups say the measures don’t go far enough.

Mr. Jubeir dismissed critics who say his country is unnecessarily killing civilians and stoking a humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

“I don’t see it as a quagmire,” he said.

A big focus of Prince Mohammed’s trip will be to try to fix Saudi Arabia’s image problem that never fully recovered from the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which were carried out by mostly Saudi citizens. During his time in the U.S., Prince Mohammed can point to the steps his government has taken to curb the influence of Islamic hardliners and to loosen the kingdom’s strict social rules, such as the upcoming lifting of the ban on women driving.

“Forget about the old Saudi Arabia. Now he’s presenting the new country,” said Abdullah al Shammari, an academic and former senior Saudi diplomat. “We are brave enough to admit that we made mistakes, we tried our best to correct what we did before and we need you to understand that what is happening is important for Saudi Arabia, for the region and for the future.”

Write to Dion Nissenbaum at dion.nissenbaum@wsj.com and Margherita Stancati at margherita.stancati@wsj.com 

https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-to-greet-visiting-saudi-prince-with-a-crowded-agenda-1521538201

 

Houston Police Arrest Armed Man In High-Rise Hotel New Year’s Eve Venue In What Could Have Been Las Vegas-Style Shooting

December 31, 2017
© AFP | Houston police were called to deal with a “drunk, belligerent suspect” 

WASHINGTON (AFP) – 

Police in Houston, Texas said Sunday they had arrested a belligerent man in possession of a number of guns at a high-rise hotel where a major New Year’s celebration is planned.

The arrest, coming as cities across the country and around the world were preparing New Year’s Eve celebrations, sparked fears of a repeat of the Oct. 31 mass shooting from a hotel room in Las Vegas, Nevada, that left 58 killed and hundreds wounded.

Houston police said they had yet to determine whether the man had any ill intent. They have yet to release his identity.

Police Lieutenant Gordon Macintosh said police were called to the Hyatt Regency Hotel shortly after midnight to deal with a “drunk, belligerent suspect.”

The first officers to respond had to call for backup when the man refused to comply with their orders, Macintosh said in a video interview carried on the Houston Chronicle website.

When police escorted the man back to his room, they found “several guns,” Macintosh said. Other news media described these as including an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun and a handgun, as well as a large quantity of ammunition.

The suspect was arrested for unlawfully carrying a weapon as well as for trespassing, Macintosh said. But he said the man was so intoxicated that police were not immediately able to interview him.

The Hyatt says its New Year’s Eve party spans four floors, featuring live performances and the dropping of 50,000 balloons at midnight. A hotel employee said the party was still on despite the “disturbance.”

The Oct. 31 shooting from a high-rise hotel in Las Vegas by a heavily armed 64-year-old man, who killed himself as police closed in, was the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history.

Police in other cities have said they are taking extraordinary security measures around the year-end celebrations, most prominently at Times Square in New York, where police said they would deploy rooftop observers and counter-snipers in more buildings than usual, as well as patrolling hotels.

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Intoxicated man found with small arsenal on top floor of Hyatt Regency downtown, police say

By Megan Kennedy – Content Editor

HOUSTON – A man has been arrested on multiple charges after police located a small arsenal of guns on the top floor of the Hyatt Regency on Louisiana Street downtown, Houston police said.

Police at the hotel called for backup around 1:30 a.m. Sunday after they attempted to arrest the man for being intoxicated and trespassing. When help arrived, police noticed ammunition laying around the man’s hotel room, Lt. Gordon Macintosh with Houston police said.

 

The man was arrested for unlawfully carrying a weapon and trespassing. When investigators looked into his room further, they located an AR-15, a shotgun, a handgun and lots of ammunition, Macintosh said.

The Hyatt is preparing its own New Years Eve celebration at the hotel with a 50,000 balloon drop at the stroke of midnight, its website said.

The man’s white Chevrolet Silverado was located and towed to be searched and examined, Macintosh said.

Police are waiting to interview the man until he has sobered up, Macintosh said.

Situation from this morning at downtown hotel is contained. No specific threats to @HoustonTX@houstonpolice will be heavily deployed throughout the city to include SWAT react teams. Proud of officers & Hyatt. As always be vigilant & report suspicious a activity to authorities.

Investigators are working to learn more about this incident.

The Hyatt Regency Houston has released the following statement:

The safety and security of our guests and colleagues is our top priority, and consistent with the hotel’s prepared security plans, heightened measures are in place on New Year’s Eve. We are fully cooperating with authorities on an investigation, and further questions should be directed to the Houston Police Department.

https://www.click2houston.com/news/intoxicated-man-found-with-small-arsenal-on-top-floor-of-hyatt-regency-downtown-police-say

U.S. Steelmakers Raise Their Bets on Energy, Construction

December 30, 2017

Steelmakers are betting on the U.S. again, building mills they hope will help them compete against cheap imports as demand rises. Others see expansion as a risky bet.

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Tenaris has started making pipe for oil and gas wells at its new mill in Bay City, Texas.Photo: Max Burkhalter for The Wall Street Journal

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By Bob Tita
The Wall Street Journal
December 30, 2017   7:00 a.m. ET

 

Steelmakers are betting on the U.S. again, building mills they hope will help them compete against cheap imports as demand rises.

Steel companies have complained for years that steel from China, South Korea, Vietnam, Turkey and elsewhere is being sold in the U.S. for less than the cost to make it.

While imports are still increasing, steel prices are also on the rise globally. And demand for U.S. steel is starting to rebound, thanks to rising oil prices and a strengthening manufacturing sector, steel executives say. Still, others see expansion as a risky bet.

Some steel companies say they can capture more customers with new plants that can make more steel at less cost than older plants, and can deliver it faster to customers. They’re also counting on additional U.S. tariffs to drive out cheap, foreign-made steel, creating more opportunities for domestic producers. Stiff tariffs imposed over the past 18 months have significantly slowed steel imports from China, according to Commerce Department reports.

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Nucor Corp. is building a $250 million steel mill in Sedalia, Mo. Startup Big River Steel LLC in Osceola, Ark., accelerated production early this year at one of the largest new steel sheet mills built in the U.S. in years. And Tenaris SA started making pipe for oil and gas wells at a new $1.8 billion mill near Houston this month.

“Our view is the energy sector will continue to expand here for the next 10 to 20 years and justify more manufacturing in the states,” said Paolo Rocca, chief executive of Luxembourg-based Tenaris.

Domestic steel shipments rose 5% in the first 10 months of 2017 compared with a year earlier and are on track to finish the year higher for the first time since 2014. At the same time, imports were also up 15% annually in the first 10 months of 2017, as imports shifted from China to other low-cost countries. Nucor said Dec. 19 that price pressure from imports has compressed its margins, and it forecast that its fourth-quarter earnings per share will be barely above last year’s and below analysts’ expectations.

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As Tenaris’s new mill in Bay City begins production, the company has nearby plants that remain mostly idle. Photo: Max Burkhalter for The Wall Street Journal

Some industry analysts say the new U.S. mills could exacerbate that pressure, swamping a still-fragile domestic market. As Tenaris’s new mill in Bay City, Texas, begins production, the company has nearby plants that remain mostly idle. Mills in the U.S. that supply well-site pipes are operating at about 60% of their maximum production, estimates market analytics firm Pipe Logix LLC.

“Building any more production capacity is just questionable,” said Seth Rosenfeld, a Jefferies analyst. “These companies’ actions don’t align with what they’ve been saying about the state of the steel market.”

But Pipe Logix also estimates that the number of oil and gas wells drilled in the U.S. increased by 60% this year over 2017, and steel executives expect more growth next year.

Tenaris hopes to benefit from that growth by doubling its U.S. pipe-making capacity to about 1 million tons annually. Tenaris plans to sell it directly to well drillers, eliminating independent distributors. Without the middlemen’s markup, Tenaris says it can beat its domestic rivals on price. It also expects continued U.S. tariff pressure on foreign competitors to drive down imports that now make about 70% of the U.S. well-pipe market.

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Tenaris hopes to benefit from an increase in U.S. oil and gas wells by doubling its domestic pipe-making capacity. Photo: Max Burkhalter for The Wall Street Journal

Tenaris is also pledging to provide engineering and technical support to customers and to take back pipe that drillers don’t use. “This is a way of working that requires a very intimate relationships with customers,” Mr. Rocca said.

Some U.S. steel companies also see opportunities in rebar, the reinforcing bar used to strengthen concrete in construction projects. Rebar imports are on pace to drop by 17% in 2017, according to Commerce Department, as duties and higher prices for the scrap steel used to make it decrease shipments.

Nucor’s new Missouri mill will allow the North Carolina-based company to produce rebar closer to where its customers use it in buildings, bridge piers and highways. Nucor said it chose a site near Kansas City because most of the rebar used in the region now is shipped in from elsewhere.

“The closer we are to that market, the more successful we could be,” CEO John Ferriola said.

Nucor also intends to buy scrap steel for its rebar near the new mill, which is scheduled to open in 2019. “That’s going to give us a cost advantage in serving that market,” Mr. Ferriola said.

The control room at the Tenaris plant in Bay City.Photo: Max Burkhalter for The Wall Street Journal

Texas-based Commercial Metals Co. , is building a similar regional rebar mill in Durant, Okla., after opening one in Mesa, Ariz., in 2009.

Big River, backed by Koch Industries Inc. and the Arkansas teacher’s retirement fund, designed its mill in northeast Arkansas to produce lightweight sheet steel for cars with an electric furnace, challenging established competitors that make steel for cars with coal-fired furnaces. The company says the mill can be adapted to produce different flat-rolled steel products, potentially leaving it less vulnerable to supply gluts than mills making just one or two products.

Write to Bob Tita at robert.tita@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-steelmakers-raise-their-bets-on-energy-construction-1514635200

US oil exports boom, putting infrastructure to the test

October 30, 2017

(Shutterstock)

NEW YORK/HOUSTON: Tankers carrying record levels of crude are leaving in droves from Texas and Louisiana ports, and more growth in the fledgling US oil export market may before long test the limits of infrastructure like pipelines, dock space and ship traffic.

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US crude exports have boomed since the decades-old ban was lifted less than two years ago, with shipments recently hitting a record of 2 million barrels a day. But shippers and traders fear the rising trend is not sustainable, and if limits are hit, it could pressure the price of US oil.
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How much crude the United States can export is a mystery. Most terminal operators and companies will not disclose capacity, and federal agencies like the US Energy Department do not track it. Still, oil export infrastructure will probably need further investment in coming years. Bottlenecks would hit not only storage and loading capacity, but also factors such as pipeline connectivity and shipping traffic.
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Analysts believe operators will start to run into bottlenecks if exports rise to 3.5 million to 4 million barrels a day. RBC Capital analysts put the figure lower, around 3.2 million bpd.
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The United States has not come close to that yet. A total of the highest loading days across Houston, Port Arthur, Corpus Christi and St. James/New Orleans — the primary places where crude can be exported — comes to about 3.2 million bpd, according to Kpler, a cargo tracking service.
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But with total US crude production currently at 9.5 million barrels a day and expected to add 800,000 to 1 million bpd annually, export capacity could be tested before long. Over the past four weeks, exports averaged 1.7 million bpd, more than triple a year earlier.
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“Right now, there seems to be a little more wiggle room for export levels,” said Michael Cohen, head of energy markets research at Barclays.
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“Two to three years down the road, if US production continues to grow like current levels, the market will eventually signal that more infrastructure is needed. But I don’t think a lot of those plans are in place right now.”
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If exports do hit a bottleneck, it would put a ceiling on how much oil shippers get out of the country. Growing domestic oil production and limited export avenues could sink US crude prices.
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Shippers have booked vessels to go overseas in recent weeks because the premium for global benchmark Brent crude widened to as much as $7 a barrel over US crude , making exports more profitable for domestic producers.
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Export Plans
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Exports could hit 4 million bpd by 2022, an Enterprise Products Partners LP executive told an industry event in Singapore recently.
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Though some operators are already eyeing expansion plans, there are limitations, said Carlin Conner, chief executive at SemGroup Corp, which owns the Houston Fuel Oil Terminal. SemGroup has three docks for exporting crude and is building additional ones.
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“There aren’t very many terminals with the needed pipeline capabilities, tank farm capacity and proper docks to load the ships … Adding this is expensive and not done easily. So there are limitations to unfettered export access,” he said.
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For instance, exports are expected to start from the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) in early 2018 at around one supertanker a month, according to two sources. The LOOP is potentially a key locale for exports. Its location 18 miles (29 km) offshore means it can handle larger vessels than other, shallower ship channels.
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While LOOP can load around 40,000 barrels per hour, operating at that capacity is not likely because that same pipe is used to offload imports, the sources added. LOOP did not respond to a request for comment.
In Houston, when looking at the top 30 loading days, crude exports averaged 700,000 bpd, Kpler added. That includes Enterprise’s Houston terminal, among the largest of the export facilities, that had 615,000 bpd.
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Other terminal operators are also developing additional facilities. NuStar Energy LP currently can load between 500,000 to 600,000 bpd at its two docks in Corpus Christi, which has about 1 million in capacity, according to a port spokesman. NuStar is developing a third dock, which should come online either late first quarter or early second quarter.
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In Houston, Magellan Midstream Partners LP is planning a new 45-foot draft Aframax dock for mid-2018. Aframax vessels can carry about 500,000 to 700,000 barrels of crude.

Shortage of Florida Insurance Adjusters Could Stall Recovery Efforts

September 14, 2017

Insurers are vying for adjusters after many of them headed to Texas after Hurricane Harvey

After Irma, Florida residents are lacking in many necessities. One of the more frustrating is the paucity of insurance adjusters, which is threatening to anger policyholders and potentially delay the state’s rebuilding efforts.

Many of the state’s adjusters are 1,000 miles away, working on claims made after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas.

Insurers are scrambling to get more adjusters to Florida, creating a bidding war for those who are available. Some Florida home insurers have increased fees paid to adjusters by about 30%, insurers and adjusters say.

Citizens Property Insurance Corp., a state-run insurer of last resort, has boosted adjuster compensation by 18% to 20% and said it expects additional increases to keep up with rivals.

While higher fees for adjusters often only modestly impact the cost of a claim, the bigger worry is that damage to buildings will worsen from mold and other problems. In addition, claims that could have been resolved amicably may end up in costly litigation as homeowners get angry waiting.

“An insurance claim isn’t a bottle of wine,” said Randy Maniloff, an insurance-industry defense lawyer at Williams and White LLP.

Adjuster Lee Vorcheimer has been receiving calls from companies seeking to recruit him.
Adjuster Lee Vorcheimer has been receiving calls from companies seeking to recruit him.PHOTO: MATTHEW RIVA/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Insurance companies are vying for the nation’s independent claims adjusters, who total 57,200 as of July, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. ​Florida also says it is easing the process of appointing insurance adjusters, which may help expand the number.

“Our Department has taken steps to make the adjuster-appointment process as simple ​[as] ​possible for insurance companies, and our team is processing appointments at a rapid-fire pace” in an effort “to ensure that Floridians get swift handling of their post-storm claims,” said a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Financial Services. In addition, many insurance companies employ adjusters full-time and a lot of those will be on the ground, among other types of adjusters who could be available.

Lee Vorcheimer, a longtime adjuster in south Florida, said that “every day for the last two weeks, there have been 10 or 15 emails” from independent-adjuster firms seeking to recruit him to travel to Texas or handle claims for local insurers. He has been offered bonuses, including money for temporary housing.

Independent insurance adjusters are paid according to the size of a claim they assess for a company. For Irma claims, they are earning from about $500 to about $30,000 for policyholder claims of $1,000 to $1 million, respectively, according to two fee schedules from private insurers reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Some adjusters can make $65,000 to $100,000 in the first month after a major hurricane, people in the industry say.

“When you have a hurricane like Harvey and a hurricane like Irma, everybody loves you,” said Mr. Vorcheimer, who settled on adjusting Irma claims for Tampa-based HCI GroupInc., in part because he likes their technology.

This week, Mr. Vorcheimer began inspections as early as 7:30 a.m., looking at up to 15 properties a day. In Broward County on Monday, he found trees on roofs, missing shingles, rain damage, and blown-over pool screens and fences. Damage ranged up to about $65,000, he said. He hauled ladders from his pickup truck and climbed on every roof. He finished his day just after 7 p.m.

Lee Vorcheimer processes insurance adjustment claims after Irma.
Lee Vorcheimer processes insurance adjustment claims after Irma. PHOTO: MATTHEW RIVA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Mr. Vorcheimer, 51 years old, got into adjusting in 2005 after selling a bakery and a neighbor recruited him to help with Hurricane Wilma claims. His wife, Cheryl, handles administrative matters for the business, Perfect Reliable Independent Claim Services Inc.​. Like many other adjusters, the couple uses a 45-foot recreational vehicle when traveling to inspect long-distance claims. The couple is living there temporarily as their home in Pompano Beach has no power.

Though Irma didn’t strike Miami, the state’s largest city, as feared, damages from the storm could be large enough to displace Sandy as the nation’s third most-expensive hurricane ever. That 2012 storm left $20 billion in losses, in today’s dollars, mostly in the northeast. On Wednesday, catastrophe-risk modeling firm Karen Clark & Co. estimated Irma’s U.S. damage at $18 billion.

The adjuster issues are especially acute in Florida because its home-insurance market is heavily dependent on small and midsize insurers. Over the past 25 years, many of the brand-name national insurers have shrunk their presence in the state to reduce their exposure to hurricanes.

Smaller insurance companies typically rely heavily on independent adjusters, said Joseph Burtone, an insurance analyst with ratings firm A.M. Best. The smaller insurers “have to figure out a way to handle that the best they can,” he said. “It will be a challenge.”

By comparison, the national insurers employ fleets of adjusters and can send people to Florida from other states. Many big names, such as American International Group Inc. and ​Liberty Mutual Insurance, also contract with independent-adjuster firms as needed when disasters occur. Chubb Ltd. said it relies predominantly on its own staff.

On Tuesday, Tim Barziza, a Texas-based “claim leader” for Chubb, was on the last leg of a drive to Miami to oversee a command center there. It is one of several such centers Chubb has set up across the state for taking care of well-to-do policyholders’ homes, fine art, boats and vehicles, as well as business clients.

Roughly 400 Chubb employees are expected to handle claims and adjusting, either in the state or from call centers. Chubb adjusters are arriving “from all corners of the U.S.,” Mr. Barziza said, taking a break from driving and watching as utility-truck convoys and vehicles with children, dogs and suitcases returned home. By Wednesday, Chubb had received just over 1,000 Irma claims, the overwhelming majority tied to home policies.

In addition to private insurers, many Florida claims will be processed by Citizens, which at about 450,000 policyholders is one of the state’s biggest insurers. It expects about 150,000 claims, a spokesman said. As of 1 p.m. Tuesday, about 7,000 had arrived.

“A stale claim is an expensive claim,” said John Rollins, an executive with Cabrillo Coastal General Insurance Agency LLC in Gainesville, Fla., and a former chief risk officer of Citizens. “The key in a situation like this is getting to the policyholder and getting some money in their hands so they can begin the recovery process.”

As Florida’s market gets stretched, insurance executives said the fee increases being paid to adjusters in Florida are spilling over to Texas.

“There’s a tug of war for adjusters” between the two states, said James Warren, who works as an adjuster for Crawford & Co., which handles claims for insurance companies.

Some adjusters who would ordinarily stay for two months or longer to adjust claims for a hurricane like Harvey are already heading to Florida, he said.

Mr. Warren is currently adjusting Harvey claims in south Texas, and opted not to go to Florida because he wants to stay close to his home in the Lone Star state.

“Right now, anyone with a license to adjust claims can get a job and some company will try them out,” Mr. Warren said. “They’re paying more for adjusters to work Irma than they’ve ever paid insurance adjusters ever.”

Mr. Warren’s firm, Crawford, is running an orientation program in Atlanta to get hundreds of longtime adjusters up to speed on protocols of clients with claims to adjust in Florida. The firm is moving adjusters from Canada and the U.K. to Florida as well, said Chief Executive Harsha Agadi.

This week, HCI, the Tampa-based insurer, signed up adjusters from Massachusetts to augment its Florida team. “Everybody is pressing into service everybody and anybody they can get,” CEO Paresh Patel said.

Typically, insurers have contingency plans for hurricanes, “but we watched all of our contingency resources go to Houston” after Harvey, he said.

Write to Leslie Scism at leslie.scism@wsj.com and Nicole Friedman at nicole.friedman@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/florida-is-short-on-insurance-adjusters-and-that-could-stall-recovery-efforts-1505381401

Economic cost of Harvey, Irma could be $290 bn

September 11, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Members of the Olson family remove debris and damaged items from their father’s home in the Twin Oaks Estate after Hurricane Harvey caused widespread flooding in Houston, Texas

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The combined economic cost of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma could reach $290 billion, equivalent to 1.5 percent of the US gross domestic product, US forecaster AccuWeather said in a report Sunday.”We believe the damage estimate from Irma to be about $100 billion, among the costliest hurricanes of all time,” said the firm’s CEO and founder Joel Myers.

Harvey, which battered Texas and parts of Louisiana in late August, will be “the costliest weather disaster in US history at $190 billion or one full percentage point of GDP” which stands at $19 trillion.

The report said it arrived at the figure by calculating disruptions to business, increased unemployment rates for significant periods of time, damage to transport and infrastructure, crop loss including a 25 percent drop of orange crop, increased costs of fuels including gasoline, heating oil and jet fuel, household damages and loss of valuable documentation.

Only a fraction of the losses would be covered by insurance, said Myers.

Irma struck the Florida Keys archipelago earlier Sunday and is now bearing north, bearing down on the city of Tampa on the west coast of the Florida peninsula.

Harvey made landfall in Texas in late August, causing severe damage to property and paralyzing the country’s fourth-largest city, Houston, with major flooding.

Exxon Working Toward Restarting Baytown Refinery, the Second-Largest in the U.S.

September 4, 2017

Company says units at its other Texas-coast refinery, in Beaumont, remain shut down

 Image may contain: sky and outdoor
Large storage tanks situated in retention ponds are surrounded by rainwater left behind by Tropical Storm Harvey at Exxon Mobil’s refinery in Baytown, Texas, on Aug. 30, 2017. PHOTO: TOM FOX/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Exxon Mobil Corp. XOM 0.31% said it is working toward restarting its Houston-area Baytown refinery—the nation’s second-largest oil refinery—after a shutdown due to Tropical Storm Harvey, but said another of its coastal Texas refineries remains closed.

Exxon’s two processing plants were among nearly a dozen refineries forced to halt operations due to Harvey, which wreaked havoc on three of the U.S.’s main refining hubs along the Texas coastline—Corpus Christi, Houston and the Port Arthur/Beaumont region. The closures have taken around 20% of U.S. refining capacity offline and have caused gasoline prices to soar, both at the wholesale and retail levels, amid concerns many of the refineries may be damaged and stay shut for weeks.

”Our initial assessment of Exxon Mobil’s Baytown complex revealed the need for only minor repairs,” the company said in a statement late Saturday. “We are making good progress on restart activities.”

It said the specific timing for returning to normal operations at the 560,000-barrel-a-day Baytown plant will depend largely on the availability and condition of transportation infrastructure. “We are working with the Port of Houston to expedite vessels through the Houston Ship Channel and we are coordinating with railroads to help facilitate necessary repairs,” it said.

As for Exxon’s other Texas-coast refinery, its 362,000-barrel-a-day Beaumont plant east of Houston, it said “units at the Beaumont refinery remain shut down,” without providing further details.

The announcements by Exxon comes as Phillips 66 said it is hoping to re-start its 247,000-barrel-a-day Sweeny refinery, located in Old Ocean near Houston. “We are currently assessing the condition of our impacted facilities and making repairs and other preparations to begin the process of resuming operations,” it said Saturday. Also, four of the main refineries in the Corpus Christi region, plants owned by Valero Energy Corp , Venezuela’s Citgo, and Kansas-based Flint Hills Resources, have also announced restart efforts.

The nation’s largest refinery, the 603,000-barrel-a-day Saudi Arabian Oil Co’s Motiva Port Arthur facility, remains shut and the company’s most recent statement last week said it has no timeline for a restart. But it noted “unprecedented flooding” in the city of Port Arthur, where the refinery is located, 90 miles east of Houston.

Write to Dan Molinski at Dan.Molinski@wsj.com

Donald Trump visits Harvey victims as environmentalists berate urban sprawl

September 3, 2017

Houston’s flood devastation should be a “wake up” call to better plan its urban sprawl, environmentalists have said as President Trump again visits the region. He’s boosted federal funding for the hurricane clean-up.

USA Präsident Trump besucht erneut Überschwemmungsgebiete (Getty Images/AFP/N. Kamm)

US President Trump visited flood victims in flood-soaked Houston, Texas, and Lake Charles in Louisiana Saturday as experts reiterated calls that local authorities rethink construction that leaves ground impervious.

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) climate-change expert Joel Scata said Houston and its surrounding Harris County had been impacted hard by Hurricane Harvey because of shortfalls in urban planning.

“I am hoping that Harvey will be a wake-up call for how the US in general handles development,” said Scata. “We don’t have zoning restrictions in place so you don’t have the best planning.”

Researchers at Texas A&M [Agricultural and Mechanical] University said rapid urbanization of swamp lands since 1995 had drastically reduced the ability of local soils to absorb rainwater.

Harvey dumped an unprecedented 56 trillion liters, or 1.3 meters (51 inches) of rain over five days, inundating an estimated 136,000 buildings and led to the deaths of at least 44 people.

Boats ply Houston's Tidwell Road during the flooding (picture-alliance/AP Photo/D.J.Philips)Harvey was a ‘wake up’ call to mitigate urban sprawl, say experts

The storm’s remnants have reached Ohio where it is forecast to merge with other weather systems on Sunday.

Back to school?

Up to 12,000 students would have to attend classes elsewhere when school resumed on September 11, Houston’s school district Superintendent Richard Carranza announced Saturday while surveying damage as floodwaters receded.

Nearly a third, or 75, of the district’s schools had suffered major or extensive damage and would not be ready to reopen for months, Carranza said.

Another 115 schools examined could be cleaned and would be ready to go. Damage was spread equally throughout the low-lying city, he said.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, meanwhile, ordered evacuations of some 300 people remaining western city areas still inundated by water being released from reservoirs.

In a semblance of normalcy Saturday, the Houston Astros baseball team returned to their home stadium, where a moment of silence was held for at least 44 people killed during the storm.

Congress to foot bill for clean-up

From Washington, the White House said in a statement that Trump had authorized a boost in the federal share of funding for hurricane aftermath debris removal and emergency protective measures from 75 percent to 90 percent.

The president had on Friday asked Congress for a $7.9-billion (6.6 million-euro) down payment – expected to be approved – toward Harvey relief and recovery efforts. The private meteorological agency AccuWeather estimated that Harvey’s costs will exceed $190 billion, or about 1 percent of US gross domestic product.

Trump visits victims

Trump, who two weeks ago rescinded flood safety policy for federal infrastructure,  on Saturday visited a Houston shelter, alongside Texas Governor Greg Abbott, and chatted with displaced residents, including children – defying criticism from his first visit last Tuesday when he failed to meet with victims.

Trump on Saturday helped pass out relief supplies provided by Feed the Children and Red Cross, remarking to a volunteer coordinator: “I like doing this,” and noting to first lady Melanie Trump, “This is good exercise.”

“Is he going to help? Can he help,” asked Devon Harris, 37, a construction worker sheltering at Houston’s NRG convention center. “I’ve lost my home. My job is gone. My tools are gone. My car is gone. My life is gone. What is Trump going to do?”

President visits neighboring Louisiana

Arriving later at Lake Charles, Louisiana, where Harvey also dumped heavy rain, Trump told reporters that he hoped his request for immediate aid would be quickly approved by Congress when it returned from its five-week recess on Tuesday.

As water levels receded, numerous residents of Beaumont, a city of 120,000 east of Houston remained without piped water and waited in long vehicle queues to receive cases of bottled water.

Residents were urged to boil water before consumption.

Engineers are trying to restore service after two intakes of Beaumont’s main water system were left damaged by the swollen Neches River.

Several hundred frustrated residents of Katy, a subdivision west of Houston, waved signs Saturday, demanding to be told when they would be able to return to their homes, which were still swamped because of reservoir releases of storm water.

The Associated Press quoted many as accusing authorities of sacrificing their homes to save others. Homeowner Sheetal Parwal, said her home was now a swamp and the family had less than when it immigrated from India 10 years ago.

Dioxin leaks from dump sites?

Focus also remained on more than a dozen petrochemical waste dumps outlying Houston, known as Superfund sites, designated as being among America’s most contaminated places.

At Crosby, northeast of Houston and near the San Jacinto River, Associated Press said a small neighborhood between two Superfund sites had virtually disappeared.

Only a single house from among a dozen was still standing. A sinkhole the size of a swimming pole had opened up and swallowed two cars. Creosote odor filled the air, AP reported.

A resident with dog on the leash walk through knee-high floodwaters (Reuters/J. Bachmann)Are the floodwaters contaminated?

Another site east of Houston – the San Jacinto Waste Pits near the town of Highlands – had been covered by floodwaters so intense that an adjacent Interstate highway bridge had been closed in case it collapsed.

AP cited a federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report of September last year which found that the riverbank site contained deposits of old paper mill waste containing dioxins and other long-lasting toxins that could become “highly mobile in a severe storm.”

The EPA assessment said intense flooding could damage the site’s protective cap, resulting in the “release of contaminants from the Site.”

“If floodwaters have spread the chemicals in the waste pits then dangerous chemicals like dioxin could be spread around the wider Houston area, warned Kara Cook-Schultz of the consumer health and safety advocacy group TexPIRG.

ipj/sms (dpa, Reuters, AP, AFP)

http://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-visits-harvey-victims-as-environmentalists-berate-urban-sprawl/a-40342595