Hurricane Harvey Sends Gasoline Prices Up

A customer walks out of an Exxon station in Bedford, Texas, yesterday. Refinery shutdowns have sent prices up all over the country.

Tony Gutierrez/AP

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Tony Gutierrez/AP

Drivers who plan to hit the road over Labor Day weekend will face higher gasoline prices because of the impact of Hurricane Harvey on the nation’s refineries and pipelines.

After several days of heavy rain and flooding, gas prices reached an average of nearly $2.51 a gallon, up 20 cents since two weeks ago and nearly 30 cents since this time last year, although they fell back a bit today.

Refineries throughout the Gulf Coast shut down or reduced production a week ago in anticipation of the high winds and heavy flooding from Harvey.

“Hurricane Harvey has significantly impacted the entire Texas gulf coast with the petroleum refining centers of Corpus Christi, Houston, Port Arthur, Beaumont, and Lake Charles, La., either completely shut down or significantly scaled back operations,” according to a statement released by the Port of Corpus Christi.

As of Thursday afternoon, ten refineries representing 16.6 percent of daily U.S. refining capacity were shut down, according to the Department of Energy.

The nation’s largest refinery, in Port Arthur, Texas, is expected to be closed for at least two weeks, Reuters reported.

All told about 4.4 million barrels of daily oil production have been suspended.

With less fuel being produced, several major pipelines supplying the Midwest and the East Coast have plans to shut down, or have already done so.

Colonial Pipeline said Thursday it was temporarily suspending lines that originate in Houston and feed the east coast.

“Deliveries will be intermittent and dependent on terminal and refinery supply,” it said.

With supplies growing tight, the Department of Energy has announced it was taking 1,000,000 barrels of crude oil from the nation’s strategic petroleum reserve to send to a Phillips 66 refinery in Lake Charles on an emergency basis. The company will have to replace the crude later.

At a Friday news conference, Texas Governor Greg Abbott sought to calm fears about fuel shortages. “There’s plenty of gasoline in the state of Texas,” he said. “Don’t worry. We will not run out.”

Bloomberg reported that European refiners are rushing to fill the gap opened by Harvey:

“At least 20 tankers were booked to load European fuels for the U.S. since Harvey made landfall, a rate nearly double the average for August, shipping data compiled by Bloomberg show. Shipbrokers said cargo flows to New York are expected to be the highest since November, when an explosion on Colonial Pipeline cut off supplies.”

The gasoline supply issues could reduce inventories on the east coast, causing prices to rise further, Zachary Rogers, a refining and oil products analyst at Wood Mackenzie Ltd., told Bloomberg.

Still, conditions are returning to normal around the Port of Corpus Christi, where flooding was minimal. The port’s shipping channel has reopened and refineries in the area are expected to resume production within a few days.

Higher gasoline prices could affect consumer spending nationally, but the impact “should be small and temporary as production and refining come back on line,” according to Ryan Sweet of Moody’s Analytics.

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After Losing In Court, Florida Anti-Death Penalty Prosecutor Charts Way Forward

Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala answers questions during a news conference Friday in Orlando, Fla.

John Raoux/AP

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John Raoux/AP

A Florida State Attorney gained national attention when she announced last March that her office would no longer seek the death penalty, setting up a months-long legal battle with Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

That’s a battle State Attorney Aramis Ayala of Orlando has now lost, following a decision Thursday from the Supreme Court of Florida that the governor does have the authority to reassign first-degree murder cases to a different prosecutor.

“Florida’s Republican governor has taken more than 25 cases away from Ayala, and lawmakers slashed her budget,” WMFE’s Abe Aboraya tells our Newscast unit.

In a press conference Friday, Ayala stated that she respects the decision and is setting up a death penalty review panel in her office to independently evaluate whether to seek the death penalty. She argues that this removes the rationale for reassigning her cases.

“I don’t think at this point there’s any basis to remove cases because I’m following the law,” Ayala told reporters.

The panel will be made up of six prosecuting attorneys along with the attorney assigned to prosecute the specific case. If they unanimously determine that it is appropriate to seek the death penalty, they will make the recommendation to Ayala.

“It is worth noting that I have invested my authority into the review panel and have no intention of usurping that authority which I granted,” Ayala added.

NPR’s Debbie Elliott reported on Ayala’s motivations when the case began:

“Ayala, who took office in January in Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit, is the first black elected prosecutor in Florida. She says the death penalty is broken and does not achieve justice for victims’ families. She didn’t campaign on capital punishment but once in office said she had determined through research that pursuing the death penalty ‘is not in the best interest of this community or the best interest of justice.'”

The state Supreme Court opinion states that “Ayala’s blanket refusal to seek the death penalty in any eligible case … does not reflect an exercise of prosecutorial discretion; it embodies, at best, a misunderstanding of Florida law.”

It’s not clear whether Scott will continue to reassign cases. Scott spokesman John Tupps told The Associated Press that he will “continue to review” Ayala’s actions, adding that “the governor must be convinced that the death penalty will be sought as outlined in Florida law, when appropriate.”

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'Where Would I Go?' Thousands Of Rohingya Flee Myanmar After A Bloody Week

Two boats that capsized while carrying fleeing Rohingya, seen Thursday after they were recovered by Bangladeshi villagers. About two dozen bodies were also recovered, according to local officials.

Suvra Kanti Das/AP

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Suvra Kanti Das/AP

When state security forces entered the western Myanmar village of Chut Pyin in the mid-afternoon Sunday, they weren’t alone. According to the survivors who spoke with Fortify Rights, an international aid group, armed residents of a nearby village mingled with the troops — but they both had a common target.

Together, Fortify Rights says, the two groups wasted no time setting to work against the village’s Rohingya, a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority in the country, paying no attention to whether their victims were men, women or children.

“My brother was killed—[Myanmar Army soldiers] burned him with the group” in a bamboo hut, one survivor told the group. “We found [my other family members] in the fields. They had marks on their bodies from bullets and some had cuts. My two nephews, their heads were off. One was six-years old and the other was nine-years old. My sister-in-law was shot with a gun.”

Within a span of five hours, witnesses say more than 200 people were killed.

NPR is not able to independently verify claims in the group’s report.

Myanmar soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint in rural Rakhine state on Wednesday. Plumes of smoke reportedly billowed from several villages in the worst-hit section of the state as troops clashed with Rohingya militants this week.

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STR/AFP/Getty Images

It has been roughly a week since the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, a Rohingya militant group also known as ASRA, launched coordinated attacks on security outposts in Rakhine State, near the border with Bangladesh. Scores of people died, most of whom were the attackers, but Myanmar’s military says the violence in the days that followed has dwarfed last Friday’s death toll.

Citing a statement posted on Facebook, The Associated Press reports 399 people have died in 90 clashes this past week — and all but 29 of the dead were insurgents, according the statement.

International observers condemned the extremists’ attacks last week, but they expressed particular alarm over the military crackdown on Rohingya civilians that has followed. Viewed with suspicion as collaborators with the militants, the Rohingya have often been treated brutally by the military in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which doesn’t consider them to be citizens. Earlier this year, the United Nations decried the “devastating cruelty” with which the military retaliated against civilians for a similar militant attack last October.

“About 1 million Rohingya live in Rakhine state, and they are almost entirely disenfranchised and need permission, for instance, to travel outside their own villages or to marry,” NPR’s Michael Sullivan and Ashley Westerman explained earlier this year. “Many are restricted to living in internment camps, segregated from the local Buddhist population.”

And now, that long-precarious position appears to have been destabilized still further by the recent fighting — including the ferocious reprisals reported by groups like Fortify Rights. The aid organization says troops, police officers and even villagers armed with swords and knives have been involved in a series of mass killings and arson in pockets of Rakhine.

“The situation is dire,” Matthew Smith, the group’s CEO, said in a statement. “Mass atrocity crimes are continuing.”

“The secretary-general is deeply concerned by the reports of excesses during the security operations conducted by Myanmar’s security forces in Rakhine State and urges restraint and calm to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe,”

The United Nations estimates that between the extremist attacks and the government’s retaliatory crackdown, more than 27,000 Rohingya have fled over the border into Bangladesh in recent days, with another 20,000 “stranded between the two countries.” Unnamed sources with the U.N. tell Reuters the number of Rohingya who have crossed into Bangladesh is closer to 38,000.

And they warn that those numbers are only growing.

“The worsening cycle of violence is of grave concern and must be broken urgently,” said Yanghee Lee, the U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar. “I am concerned that these events will derail efforts to address the root causes of the systematic discrimination and recurrent violence in Rakhine State.”

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ office also released a statement on the violence Friday: “The secretary-general is deeply concerned by the reports of excesses during the security operations conducted by Myanmar’s security forces in Rakhine State and urges restraint and calm to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.”

Members of Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya minority trek through rice fields after crossing the border into Bangladesh on Friday. Myanmar’s military says nearly 400 people have died in violence in the western state of Rakhine.

Bernat Armangue/AP

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Bernat Armangue/AP

Far from a place of solace, the land across the border presents the fleeing Rohingya with its own set of dangers. For the refugees already in Bangladesh, thousands of whom fled the crackdown that followed October’s attack, life is often confined to bleak camps held together with plastic sheeting and bamboo. And that’s the case only for those lucky enough not to be turned away at the border.

Some do not even make it that far.

Bangladeshi officials say the bodies of at least two dozen people washed up on the banks of the Naf River separating the two countries, as Reuters reports.

“We believe they were Rohingyas,” said the commanding officer of a local Bangladeshi battalion, according to the New York Times. “They died because their boats capsized when they were coming to Bangladesh by boat from Myanmar.”

But many Rohingya fear still worse what awaits them if they stay put.

“If we stay inside then they set our houses on fire, shooting at us or slaughtering us,” one refugee told CNN. “How could we survive? I have no money. After seeing the massacre, I traveled all the way to the Bangladesh border. I left my home four days ago. Now where would I go?”

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Tyler Childers On Mountain Stage

Welcome to purgatory. Population: eastern Kentucky troubadour Tyler Childers — or, at least, the Appalachian sinner at the heart of Childers’ rollicking story of a boy who doesn’t ask permission to “drink and love and smoke and snort my fill” so much as he encourages his lady love to handle the whole forgiveness part. For his second appearance on Mountain Stage, Childers leads his seven-piece band into a hellraising performance of “Purgatory,” as recorded live in Charleston, W. Va.


  • “Purgatory”

Watch Tyler Childers’ Mountain Stage performances on VuHaus.

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Countries Pledge To Recover Dwindling Pacific Bluefin Tuna Population

Pacific bluefin tuna for sale at the tuna market in Katsuura on the Kii Peninsula, the premium tuna auction in Japan. The new agreement to protect the species is aimed to put it on a path to recovery.

Leisa Tyler/LightRocket/Getty Images

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Leisa Tyler/LightRocket/Getty Images

When it comes to bluefin tuna, it’s not often we have good news to share, but spin the globe today, and there’s cause for celebration in both the Pacific and Atlantic.

In a joint meeting today in Busan, South Korea, the two groups that manage Pacific bluefin tuna reached an historic long-term agreement that would put the species on the path to recovery. The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission agreed to take steps to rebuild the population to 20 percent of historic levelsby 2034 — a seven-fold increase from current levels.

Stocks of Pacific bluefin have fallen to 2.6 percent of their historic size, withcountries like Mexico, Japan, Korea and the U.S. exceeding fishing quotas within the last two years. This is a population in dire need of the protection that finally arrived today.

The groups agreed to establish sliding catch limits to reach that goal, based on how well the stocks recover in coming years, and have agreed to a harvest strategy timeline that includes stakeholder meetings over the next two years. The management groups have also committed to find ways to prevent illegally caught bluefin tuna from reaching markets.

“The really big, exciting thingis they have all agreed to a 20 percent target for recovery. It’s the level at which you can say this population really has a chance,” says Amanda Nickson, director of Global Tuna Conservation at Pew Charitable Trusts.

“This is a resilient population,” says Nickson. In other words, if the fish are allowed to survive and reproduce, the population is likely to bounce back.Also important, she adds, is that the rebuilding target will still allow for some fishing activity. That’s key to maintaining the tuna fleet as stocks replenish.

The news comes on the heels of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s closure this week of the U.S. commercial Pacific bluefin fishery for the remaining four months of the year after fishermen exceeded the 2017 quota of 425 metric tons.

Environmental groups were disappointed last month when the U.S. Federal government denied a petition to list Pacific bluefin tuna as an endangered species.

Chris Yates, assistant regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region says there’s a different bar when evaluating for endangered species protection. “We need to determine that the species is likely to become extinct or is likely to become endangered of extinction in the foreseeable future,” he says.

There are currently 1.6 million Pacific bluefin in the Pacific, and of those, 145,000 are reproducing adults. “So while the numbers of bluefin tuna are much less than desirable, there are still a lot out there,” says Yates.

Despite the disappointment of the petition’s denial, today’s news will likely help populations rebound. And the good news doesn’t stop there.

This spring, rumors began to swirl among the scientific and environmental communities that Atlantic bluefin tuna — an iconic species, whose declining population levels have prompted hand-wringing as far back as 1991 — may finally have achieved full recovery.

But like many juicy rumors, it was only partially true.

Scientists responsible for gathering data and making recommendations to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (or ICCAT), the fishery management body for Atlantic bluefin tuna, say preliminary numbers show stocks are indeed rebounding.

“Some models have the stock skyrocketing to higher levels than we saw in the 1950s. Other models use more information and account for uncertainty in the data,” says Clay Porch, the bluefin tuna coordinator for the Standing Committee for Research and Statistics for ICCAT and director of NOAA’s Sustainable Fisheries Division.

“This year’s [assessment] was different because of the sheer amount of new information we were trying to incorporate,” Porch says.

ICCAT and the scientific community as a whole expended a lot of resources mining historical data and collecting new data. They performed tagging studies and expanded biological sampling of the fish to help determine age, genetics and where the fish were born.

“It was a complicated affair,” he says.

Although they share an ocean, Atlantic bluefin tuna are actually counted as two distinct stocks. The significantly larger stock comes from the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean. The Western Atlantic stock, that swim off American shores and spawn in the Gulf of Mexico, is the smaller of the two. The latest assessment suggests both stocks are improving, with the greatest growth coming from tuna in the Eastern Atlantic.

“After decades of mismanagement and illegal fishing … the good news is the managers have followed the scientific advice and it shows that science-based management of Atlantic bluefin is working,” says Rachel Hopkins, senior officer at The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Global Tuna Conservation program.

But Hopkins cautions that there’s reason to believe that the stock closer to home isn’t recovering as robustly. There is concern that what appears to be population growth in the Western Atlantic bluefin could be inflated because Eastern bluefin have been migrating over and mixing with the Western stock.

“Western [stock is] growing, but there is concern that growth may not be growth at all,” says Hopkins. “But Eastern Atlantic bluefin are certainly cause for celebration.”

And it looks like that good news could someday be mirrored in the Pacific, if today’s agreement and goals are reached.

Clare Leschin-Hoar is a journalist based in San Diego who covers food policy and sustainability issues.

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