Trump Carbon Plan Attacked by Coastal States, Lauded by Coal Interests

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President Donald Trump’s proposal to replace an Obama-era policy to fight climate change with a weaker plan allowing states to write their own rules on emissions from coal-fired power plants was criticized by coastal states, but applauded by coal interests on Wednesday.

Under the proposed Affordable Clean Energy plan that acting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Andrew Wheeler issued in August, the federal government would set carbon emission guidelines, but states would have the leeway to set less stringent standards on coal plants, taking into account the age and upgrade costs of facilities.

The heads of environmental and energy agencies from 14 mostly coastal states, including California, New York and North Carolina, told the EPA in joint comments on the Trump plan that it would result in minimal reductions of greenhouse gases, and possibly result in increased emissions, relative to having no federal program on the pollution.

“We urge EPA to abandon this proposal and instead to maintain or update the (Obama era) Clean Power Plan,” which the states said would fulfill EPA’s obligations under federal clean air law and support the efforts of states to mitigate the effects of climate change. Some states including New York and Virginia have threatened to sue the EPA if the plan becomes law.

The comment period on the plan ends on Wednesday night and a final rule from the EPA is expected later this year.

Coal and some utility interests lauded the Trump plan.

“The proposed ACE rule is a welcome return to federal restraint after years of punitive overreach,” said Hal Quinn, the president and CEO of the National Mining Association, an industry group.

The coal industry had said President Barack Obama’s climate regulations represented a “war on coal,” but Trump’s promises to reduce regulations have not led to a revival, as the industry struggles with competition from an abundance of cheap natural gas. 

Ongoing closings of coal-fired plants have pushed U.S. coal consumption by utilities this year to the lowest since 1983, according to the Energy Information Administration.

In August, the EPA projected the plan would result in $400 million a year in economic benefits and reduce retail power prices by up to 0.5 percent by 2025. The EPA also forecast that under the rule, coal production would rise by up to 5.8 percent by 2025.

The Obama-era plan, which had been put on hold by the U.S. Supreme Court, set overall carbon-reduction goals for each state.

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Cuba Says Investor Interest Up Despite US Hostility

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Cuba’s foreign trade and investment minister said on Wednesday the country had signed nearly 200 investment projects worth $5.5 billion since it slashed taxes and made other adjustments to its investment law in 2014.

Cuba began a major effort to attract foreign investment as socialist ally Venezuela’s economy went into crisis and has ratcheted it up as export revenues decline and the Trump administration backtracks on a detente begun under then-U.S. President Barack Obama.

“Foreign investment in Cuba is growing despite the recent strengthening of the U.S. economic, trade and financial blockade, though it is below what we want,” the minister, Rodrigo Malmierca, said at an investment forum in Havana.

Even as the forum unfolded, debate on an annual resolution condemning U.S. sanctions got under way at the U.N. General Assembly in New York and the Trump administration said that on Thursday it would announce new sanctions aimed at Cuba’s military and security services.

Malmierca said 40 new projects were signed over the last year valued at $1.5 billion.

Many agreements are in the tourism sector and are often simple management and marketing accords. Others are in manufacturing, oil exploration and, to a lesser extent, areas such as pharmaceuticals, agriculture and logistics.

Cuba says it wants a minimum $2.5 billion per year in direct foreign investment to dig its way out of years of crisis and stagnation.

While $5.5 billion in deals may have been signed since 2014, the government has said only around $500 million has actually been invested annually, including foreign government credits and donations.

Diplomats and business officials report that many projects are hard pressed to obtain financing and the Communist-run country’s bureaucracy also slows deals from getting off the ground.

For example, since 2014 five golf resorts valued at close to $2.5 billion were signed with British, Chinese and Spanish investors, but ground has yet to be broken on any of them, according to foreign business officials and diplomats with knowledge of the projects.

Malmierca said the country was working to overcome numerous obstacles for investors, such as lengthy delays for project approval, lack of experience among Cuban negotiators and Cuba’s dual monetary system with fixed exchange rates.

Under then-leader Fidel Castro, foreign investment was first nationalized, then, after the fall of former benefactor the Soviet Union it was viewed as an unfortunate necessity. Today it is lauded as an integral part of the country’s development strategy.

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US Supreme Court Divided Over How Google Settled Privacy Case

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U.S. Supreme Court justices, in an internet privacy case involving Google, disagreed on Wednesday over whether to rein in a form of settlement in class action lawsuits that awards money to charities and other third parties instead of to people affected by the alleged wrongdoing.

The $8.5 million Google settlement was challenged by an official at a Washington-based conservative think tank, and some of the court’s conservative justices during an hour of arguments in the case shared his concerns about potential abuses in these awards, including excessive fees going to plaintiffs’ lawyers.

Some of the liberal justices emphasized that such settlements can funnel money to good use in instances in which dividing the money among large numbers of plaintiffs would result in negligible per-person payments. Conservatives hold a 5-4 majority on the high court.

The case began when a California resident named Paloma Gaos filed a proposed class action lawsuit in 2010 in San Jose federal court claiming Google’s search protocols violated federal privacy law by disclosing users’ search terms to other websites. Google is part of Alphabet Inc.

A lower court upheld the settlement the company agreed to pay in 2013 to resolve the claims.

Critics have said the settlements, known as “cy pres” [pronounced “see pray”] awards, are unfair and encourage frivolous lawsuits, conflicts of interest and collusion between both sides to minimize damages for defendants while maximizing fees for plaintiffs’ lawyers. Supporters have said these settlements can benefit causes important to victims and support underfunded entities, such as legal aid.

During the arguments, several justices, both liberal and conservative, wondered whether the plaintiffs had suffered harm through the disclosure of their internet searches, sufficient to justify suing in federal court, signaling they may dismiss the case rather than deciding the fate of cy pres settlements.

Liberal Justice Stephen Breyer seemed doubtful that simple searches, of one’s own name for instance, would be enough to sustain a privacy lawsuit.

Conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh appeared to disagree.

“I don’t think anyone would want … everything they searched for disclosed to other people,” Kavanaugh said. “That seems a harm.”

Google agreed in the settlement to disclose on its website how users’ search terms are shared but was not required to change its behavior. The three main plaintiffs received $5,000 each for representing the class. Their attorneys received about $2.1 million.

Under the settlement, the rest of the money would go to organizations or projects that promote internet privacy, including at Stanford University and AARP, a lobbying group for older Americans, but nothing to the millions of Google users who the plaintiffs were to have represented in the class action.

Cy pres awards, which remain rare, give money that cannot feasibly be distributed to participants in a class action suit to unrelated entities as long as it would be in the plaintiffs’ interests.

‘A sensible system’

While wrestling over the privacy aspects of Google searches, the justices also disagreed about the settlement both sides reached. Conservative Justice Samuel Alito raised concerns that the money would go to groups that some plaintiffs might not like but have no say in opposing.

“How can such a system be regarded as a sensible system?” Alito asked.

Chief Justice John Roberts, another conservative, noted that AARP engages in political activity, an issue that the Google deal’s opponents, led by Ted Frank, director of litigation for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, had raised.

Google has called Frank a “professional objector.”

Roberts also said it was “fishy” that settlement money could be directed to institutions to which Google already was a donor. Some beneficiary institutions also were the alma mater of lawyers involved in the case, Kavanaugh noted.

Liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told Frank, who argued the case on Wednesday, that at least the plaintiffs get an “indirect benefit” from the settlement.

“It seems like the system is working,” added Justice Sonia Sotomayor, another liberal.

In endorsing the Google settlement last year, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said each of the 129 million U.S. Google users who theoretically could have claimed part of it would have received “a paltry 4 cents in recovery.”

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Fitch Shifts Mexico Debt Outlook From Stable to Negative

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Fitch Ratings changed its outlook on Mexico’s long-term foreign-currency debt issues Wednesday from “stable” to “negative,” citing the potential policies of President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

The leftist Lopez Obrador has tried to smooth anxieties in the business community, but upset many on Monday by cancelling a partly built, $13 billion new airport on the outskirts of Mexico City.

The private sector had strongly backed the airport project, but Lopez Obrador called it wasteful. Instead he plans to upgrade existing commercial and military airports. He made the decision based on a public referendum that was poorly organized and drew only about 1 percent of the country’s voters.

 

Alfredo Coutino, Latin America director at Moody’s Analytics, said the decision to cancel the airport project “added not only volatility but also uncertainty to the economy’s future, because it signals that policymaking in the new administration can be based more on such kind of subjective consultation and less on technical or fundamentals consistent with the country’s needs.”

“The cancellation has certainly introduced an element of uncertainty in markets and investors,” Coutino wrote, “which could start affecting confidence and credibility.”

Fitch confirmed its BBB+ investment-grade rating for Mexican government debt, but said Wednesday “there are risks that the follow-through on previously approved reforms, for example in the energy sector, could stall.”

Lopez Obrador has said he will review private concessionary oil exploration contracts granted under current President Enrique Pena Nieto’s energy reform, but won’t cancel them if they were fairly granted. The fear is that future exploration contracts may be delayed or cancelled.

Lopez Obrador won’t take office until December1, but has already announced major policy decisions.

 

Some of his policy announcements – like fiscal restraint, respect for the independence of the central banks and a pledge to avoid new debt – earned praise from investors.

But Fitch noted the decision to cancel the airport “sends a negative signal to investors.”

Lopez Obrador has also pledged to have the state-owned oil company, Pemex, build more refineries to lower imports of gasoline.

Fitch wrote that this type of proposal will “would entail higher borrowing and larger contingent liabilities to the government.”

 

 

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Birthday Blues for Bitcoin as Investors Face Year-on-Year Loss

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Bitcoin was heading towards a year-on-year loss on Wednesday, its 10th birthday, the first loss since last year’s bull market, when the original and biggest digital coin muscled its way to worldwide attention with months of frenzied buying.

By 1300 GMT, bitcoin was trading at $6,263 on the BitStamp exchange, leaving investors who had bought it on Halloween 2017 facing yearly losses of nearly 3 percent.

A year ago, bitcoin closed at $6,443.22 as it tore towards a record high of near $20,000, hit in December.

That run, fueled by frenzied buying by retail investors from South Korea to the United States, pushed bitcoin to calendar-year gains of over 1,300 percent.

Ten years ago, Satoshi Nakamoto, bitcoin’s still-unidentified founder, released a white paper detailing the need for an online currency that could be used for payments without the involvement of a third party, such as a bank.

Traders and market participants said the Halloween milestone was inevitable, given losses of around 70 percent from bitcoin’s peak and the continuing but incomplete shift towards investment by mainstream financial firms.

“The value mechanisms of crypto and bitcoin today are based more on underlying tech than hype and FOMO (fear of missing out),” said Josh Bramley, head trader at crypto wealth management firm Blockstars.

Growing use of blockchain – the distributed ledger technology that underpins bitcoin – is now powering valuations of the digital currency, he said, cautioning that some expectations for widespread use have not yet materialized.

Others said improvements to infrastructure such as custody services may allow mainstream investors who are wary of buying bitcoin to take positions.

“We see behind closed doors financial and non-financial institutions beavering away to create the infrastructure,” said Ben Sebley, head of brokerage at NKB Group, a blockchain advisory and investment firm.

Bitcoin has endured year-on-year losses before, according to data from CryptoCompare, most recently in 2015.

Retail investors still account for a strong proportion of trading, market players said.

Investors who bet early on bitcoin and have stuck with it have faced a roller-coaster ride in its first decade. Many told Reuters they are optimistic that they are still onto a winner.

 

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UK-Canadian ‘Grand Committee’ Seeks to Question Zuckerberg

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Parliamentary committees in Britain and Canada on Wednesday urged Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify before a joint hearing of international lawmakers examining fake news and the internet.

Damian Collins, the head of the U.K. parliament’s media committee, is joining forces with his Canadian counterpart, Bob Zimmer, to pressure Zuckerberg to personally take part in hearings, as he did before the U.S Congress and the European Parliament. The so-called “international grand committee” session would be held Nov. 27 and could include lawmakers from other countries.

“We understand that it is not possible to make yourself available to all parliaments. However, we believe that your users in other countries need a line of accountability to your organization — directly, via yourself,” the pair said in a letter to Zuckerberg. “We would have thought that this responsibility is something that you would want to take up.”

Social media companies have been under scrutiny in Britain following allegations that political consultancy Cambridge Analytica used data from tens of millions of Facebook accounts to profile voters and help U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign. The committee is also investigating the impact of fake news distributed via social media sites globally.

Collins has been irate with Facebook for sending Zuckerberg’s underlings to his committee’s hearings while the leader of the Silicon Valley company declined invitations to attend. Joining forces with Canada — and perhaps other countries — seems designed to prod Zuckerberg and persuade him to change his mind.

“No such joint hearing has ever been held,” the pair wrote. “Given your self-declared objective to ‘fix’ Facebook, and to prevent the platform’s malign use in world affairs and democratic process, we would like to give you the chance to appear at this hearing.”

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Bolsonaro’s Economic Guru Urges Quick Brazil Pension Reform

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The future economy minister tapped by Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro insisted on Tuesday that he wanted to fast-track an unpopular pension reform to help balance government finances despite mounting resistance to getting it done this year.

Paulo Guedes, whom Bolsonaro selected as a “super minister” with a portfolio combining the current ministries of finance, planning and development, has urged Congress to pass an initial version of pension reform before the Jan. 1 inauguration.

“Our pension funds are an airplane with five bombs on board that will explode at any moment,” Guedes said on Tuesday. “We’re already late on pension reform, so the sooner the better.”

He called the reform essential to controlling surging public debt in Latin America’s largest economy and making space for public investments to jump-start a sluggish economy. Markets surged in the weeks ahead of Bolsonaro’s Sunday victory on the expectation that he could pull off the tough fiscal agenda.

Brazil’s benchmark Bovespa stock index rose 3.7 percent on Tuesday, boosted by strong corporate earnings and the resolve shown by Guedes on pension reform.

Yet the University of Chicago-trained economist, who is getting his first taste of public service, met with skepticism from more seasoned politicians.

Rodrigo Maia, the speaker of the lower house of Congress, said on Tuesday that reform is urgent, but cautioned that the conditions to pass it were still far off.

Major Olimpio, a lawmaker from Bolsonaro’s own party who helped run his campaign, agreed the political climate was not ready for reform.

Even Bolsonaro’s future chief of staff, Onyx Lorenzoni, said in a Monday radio interview that he only expects to introduce a reform plan next year.

After a meeting with Lorenzoni, Guedes said the decision on timing was ultimately a political one that the chief of staff would weigh.

“We can’t go from a victory at the ballot box to chaos in Congress,” Guedes told journalists.

On other issues, Guedes made clear he was the final word on economic matters, laying out plans to give the central bank more institutional independence and clarifying comments made by Lorenzoni about exchange-rate policy.

“You are all scared because he is a politician talking about the economy. That’s like me talking about politics. It’s not going to work,” Guedes said.

Hot Button Issues

While advisers work out the details of his economic program, Bolsonaro revisited some of his most contentious campaign promises on Monday night: looser gun laws, a ban on government advertising for media that “lie,” and urging a high-profile

judge to join his government.

In interviews with TV stations and on social media, Bolsonaro, a 63-year-old former Army captain who won 55 percent of Sunday’s vote after running on a law-and-order platform, made clear he would push through his conservative agenda.

Bolsonaro said he wants Sergio Moro, the judge who has overseen the sprawling “Car Wash” corruption trials and convicted former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of graft, to serve as his justice minister.

Barring that, he said he would nominate Moro to the Supreme Court. The next vacancy on the court is expected in 2020.

Bolsonaro had not formally invited Moro as of Tuesday afternoon, and the judge remained noncommittal on the proposal.

“In case I’m indeed offered a post, it will be subject to a balanced discussion and reflection,” Moro said in a statement.

Media Showdown

Late on Monday, Bolsonaro said in an interview with Globo TV that he would cut government advertising funds that flow to any “lying” media outlets.

During his campaign, the right-winger imitated U.S. President Donald Trump’s strategy of aggressively confronting the media, taking aim at Globo TV and Brazil’s biggest newspaper, the Folha de S.Paulo.

“I am totally in favor of freedom of the press,” Bolsonaro told Globo TV. “But if it’s up to me, press that shamelessly lies will not have any government support.”

Bolsonaro was referring to the hundreds of millions of reais the Brazilian government spends in advertising each year in local media outlets, mainly for promotions of state-run firms.

The UOL news portal, owned by the Grupo Folha, which also controls the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper, used Brazil’s freedom of information act as the basis for a 2015 article that showed Globo received 565 million reais in federal government spending in 2014. Folha got 14.6 million reais that year.

Globo said on Tuesday that federal government advertising represented less than 4 percent of the revenue for its flagship channel, TV Globo, without providing more detailed figures.

Grupo Folha did not reply to requests for comment.

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Ocean Shock: Lobster’s Great Migration Sets Up Boom and Bust 

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This is part of “Ocean Shock,” a Reuters series exploring climate change’s impact on sea creatures and the people who depend on them. 

A lobster tattoo covers Drew Eaton’s left forearm, its pincers snapping at dock lines connecting it to the American flag on his upper arm. The tattoo is about three-quarters done, but the 27-year-old is too busy with his new boat to finish it. 

Eaton knows what people here in Stonington have been saying about how much the boat cost him. 

“I’ve heard rumors all over town. Small town, everyone talks,” he says. “I’ve heard a million, two million.” 

By the time he was in the third grade, Eaton was already lobstering here on Deer Isle in Downeast Maine. By the time he was in the eighth grade, he’d bought his first boat, a 20-footer, from a family friend. The latest one, a 46-footer built over the winter at a nearby boatyard, is his fourth. 

Standing on the seawall after hauling lobster traps for about 12 hours on a foggy day this August, he says he’s making plenty of money to cover the boat loan. He’s unloaded 17 crates, each carrying 90 pounds of lobster, for a total haul of nearly $5,500. It’s a pretty typical day for him. 

Eaton belongs to a new generation of Maine lobstermen that’s riding high, for now, on a sweet spot of climate change. Two generations ago, the entire New England coast had a thriving lobster industry. Today, lobster catches have collapsed in southern New England, and the only state with a significant harvest is north in Maine, where the seafood practically synonymous with the state has exploded. 

The thriving crustaceans have created a kind of nautical gold rush, with some young lobstermen making well into six figures a year. But it’s a boom with a bust already written in its wake, and the lobstermen of the younger generation may well pay the highest price. Not only have they heavily mortgaged themselves with pricey custom boats in the rush for quick profits, they’ll also bear the brunt of climate change — not to mention the possible collapse of the lobstering industry in Maine as the creatures flourish ever northward. 

Shifts by 85 percent of species

In the U.S. North Atlantic, fisheries data show that at least 85 percent of the nearly 70 federally tracked species have shifted north or deeper, or both, in recent years when compared with the norm over the past half-century. And the most dramatic of species shifts have occurred in the last 10 or 15 years. 

Just in the last decade, for example, black sea bass have migrated up the East Coast into southern New England and are caught in the same traps that once caught lobsters. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, only 50 percent of lobster caught in the United States came from Maine. That started to shift in the 2000s, and this decade, nearly 85 percent of all lobster landings are in Maine. 

Pushed out of their traditional habitats by dramatically rising ocean temperatures and other fallout from climate change, the lobsters are part of a global dislocation of marine species that threatens livelihoods and cultures in the lands where they once thrived. 

On this island where two-lane roads twist around cedar-shingled houses and the rocky shore, lobstermen set the rhythm, often rising hours before dawn and resting not long after sunset. 

Although young guns like Eaton are flush with cash now, old-timers know that lobsters no longer thrive in warming waters to the south, and they’ve heard the talk about how fast the Gulf of Maine is warming. They fret that lobsters will start failing here, too, and Stonington will lose its mantle as lobster capital of the world to somewhere in Canada. And these days, there’s not much to fall back on if it does. 

They remember back when fishermen could catch plenty of cod, pollock and halibut if lobsters weren’t filling their traps. 

Until recently, shrimp was a reasonably reliable catch for local fishermen. But in 2014, regulators closed the shrimp fishery entirely. 

“Here you’ve got these coastal fishing communities that are totally based on what comes out of the water,” says Ted Ames, a commercial fisherman who became a scientist and co-founded the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries. 

He sits in the research center’s main conference room overlooking Stonington harbor, where hundreds of lobster boats bob on their mooring balls and the docks bustle with fishermen and their traps. 

In coastal Maine, he says, there’s little to sustain a community other than lobster and tourism. 

“You eliminate lobsters, and you have an instant Appalachia, right here.” 

 

Lobstering over time 

Unlike kids in most fishing communities around the world, youngsters here in Stonington clamor to get on the water. The gold-rush fever has gotten so bad, the local high school even has a program that encourages students to graduate before heading off to make a living from fishing. 

The skippers program, as it is known, offers the allotment of traps as a reward for staying in school. And when the students graduate, it streamlines the process of getting a full Maine skipper license, gradually increasing the number of traps to the maximum of 800. 

Deer Isle-Stonington High life sciences teacher Seth Laplant sympathizes with the students who chafe at being in school. 

“We have students that, you know, run their own business during the summer and do very well, and then they come back here and they have to ask to go to the bathroom,” he says. “It’s like a completely different world for them, and some of them do struggle with that. They’re used to being their own boss, and they’re respected in the community and in their families as adults.” 

But like many teens, they still play the one-upmanship game. Only with these students, it revolves around the size of their boats or the number of traps they own. 

Colby Schneider tells the class he’s the part-owner of a 30-foot fishing boat. 

Alex Boyce can’t believe it. “Are you serious, you have a 30-foot Novi?” 

“Yes,” Colby shoots back. “Me, my brother and my mom went thirds on it.” 

Alex rolls his eyes. He’s still accumulating traps and owns about a third of the 150 traps that students in the program are permitted to use. And his boat is only 19 feet long. 

Later in the day, Alex gathers with his father and grandfather in his grandparents’ kitchen. 

“Every year he asks: ‘Do I have to go back to school? Can I go fishing?'” says his father, offshore lobsterman Theodore Boyce II. “He went one weekend and made $700 in two days. That’s a tough thing to say no to as a parent. … But if he doesn’t finish school, he doesn’t go fishing.” 

Alex interrupts his father: “I was going to say, you seem to have a pretty easy job saying no.” Theodore’s eyes dart toward his son, and Alex backs down. 

Alex’s grandfather, Theodore “Ted” Boyce, is a fisherman and retired teacher. The 69-year-old, who still fishes part time, hopes his grandson can make a decent living on the water, but he isn’t sure. 

Invasive creature

In the summer of 2017, chatter on the Stonington docks was that lobstering wasn’t going to be as lucrative as it had been in recent years. Lobstermen were pulling fewer lobsters, and the traps often came up coated with layers of slimy sea squirts — an invasive jellyfish-type creature. 

The arrival of the squirts may or may not be related to climate change or the size of the catch, but it seemed to be a harbinger. As autumn moved toward winter, many of the traps piled high near the docks were encrusted with squirt carcasses. 

And when the Maine fisheries released their 2017 landings numbers, the chatter on the docks turned out to be true: Maine lobstermen landed 15 percent less than the record haul in 2016, the lowest catch since the beginning of the decade. 

​Lobster rush 

The waters between the islands of Deer Isle, Isle au Haut and Vinalhaven tell the story of the lobster rush. 

Thousands upon thousands of colorfully painted buoys decorate the surface, marking the point where traps are strung below. Each fisherman has a color pattern: reds and whites, blacks and pinks, and yellows, oranges and greens. Most are striped horizontally, making them easier to identify when floating on their sides. 

Despite Maine’s reputation as a largely undeveloped state, it’s a thoroughly urban world under the water here. At the height of the summer, there are probably traps every 10 to 20 feet in the near-shore waters. 

To describe a lobster pot as a trap, though, is a bit insulting to most other traps. As a practical matter, this is free-range aquaculture. The traps are designed to allow smaller, younger lobsters to come and go as they please, feasting on rotten fish. Even larger lobsters come and go, although with a little more effort. 

The unlucky ones are snacking when the trap’s owner decides to check it. 

Lobster buoys like the ones off Stonington once punctuated waters along the entire New England coast. Between 1960 and 2000, Connecticut and Rhode Island in southern New England accounted for about 15 percent of the lobster harvest. Since 2010, however, lobster catches have collapsed in both states, with a combined haul of less than 2 percent. 

Dramatic drop

Even Massachusetts Bay, which sits on the southwestern edge of the Gulf of Maine, has seen the catch dip dramatically. In the 1980s and 1990s, when lobster’s popularity with U.S. diners exploded, Massachusetts boats accounted for 20 to 30 percent of the harvest. Today, their share hovers around 10 percent. 

Southern New England lobsters once were protected from the warm water temperatures in Long Island Sound by upwelling from the Labrador current that tucked in along the coast of eastern Connecticut, Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts. 

As the waters in the sound became warmer and warmer during the summer months, the cooling current couldn’t keep up, and cold-water species such as lobsters no longer thrived in southern New England. And what remained of the lobster stock was vulnerable to an unsightly shell disease that made them worthless at the market. 

But even as the lobster business boomed in Maine, the waters here were warming faster than almost any other body of water in the world. 

Since 1980, the waters in the Gulf of Maine have steadily heated up, but that warming accelerated in the last decade. In fact, the average sea-surface temperature has been between 1 and 4 degrees Fahrenheit above the norm for most of the 2010s. 

The warming is driven by direct and indirect effects of climate change, says Andrew Pershing, chief science officer of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. 

He says oceans the world over are absorbing heat from the warming atmosphere. The gulf’s warming, however, is compounded by its position in the North Atlantic, which is close to the weakening Labrador current flowing from the north and a strengthening warm Gulf Stream current flowing from the south. 

“You know,” says Ames, the lobsterman turned scientist, “lobster is the best example of global warming we have.” 

‘Go-getters’ 

Perley Frazier has been working these waters for more than 50 years. And at 70 he still hauls the maximum permitted 800 traps. 

His buoys, black on top, white in the middle and red on the bottom, are usually found a mile or so from town, near islands that once were quarried for granite by Italian immigrants. The stone was used in the construction of the George Washington Bridge in New York and the John F. Kennedy memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. 

No one works in the quarries anymore, he says as he slows his boat, Jericho’s Way. 

The rising sun winks off the peaks of swells and the thousands of buoys ahead of him. Without checking his chart plotter, he picks out a string of his buoys from about 100 yards away. 

Behind Frazier, his daughter, Lindsay Frazier Copeland, and son-in-law, Brad Copeland, prepare to hook a buoy and haul up traps. After a haul of three keepers, Lindsay and Brad shove the traps back into the water. Frazier throttles up and spins the boat a few feet to the next buoy. It’s a well-practiced routine, and not much said is among the crew, called sternmen. 

“It’s hard work, this,” Frazier says during one of their smoke breaks. “It’s hard to find a good sternman who wants to work this hard.” Since this trip, in fact, Brad and Lindsay have moved to Florida, and Frazier has put his boat up for sale. 

On the way to the docks to unload his harvest, Frazier points to a trawler heading into port. It’s one of the few non-lobster boats in the town — a herring trawler that goes offshore to catch the small fish, which are used almost exclusively for bait. 

And they can’t land enough herring to satisfy the local need for lobster bait; it’s trucked in from New Jersey, among other places. There are even stories of frozen fish heads from Asia finding their way into Maine lobster traps. 

These days, Frazier is using cowhide and discarded fish carcasses as bait. Others are using menhaden, or pogies, which migrated north into these waters even as the herring population has dropped off. 

Not much else to catch

The truth is, apart from lobster, there’s not much to catch here. And certainly not in the numbers that fishermen could make a living on. 

Until this century, only about 50 percent of all fishing revenue in Maine came from lobstering, according to U.S. fisheries data. In the 2000s, that started to steadily rise until, in 2016, it topped 82 percent. 

Later, Frazier sits in his armchair at home, after saving the largest five lobsters he caught for dinner. He sips a Canadian whiskey and recalls the days when there were other ways to make a living on the water besides lobster. 

Take shrimp, for instance. “They always said shrimp needs cold water. Well, we haven’t had any cold water,” Frazier says. 

“That’s the biggest thing — my biggest worry is about global warming. I mean, I’ve seen different fish that’s supposed to be down south that’s up here already, right now.  

 

“We got like triggerfish and we’re gettin’ butterfish, and fella told me the other day … that he had a seahorse.” 

He looks at all the new boats being added to the local fishing fleet and isn’t sure lobster can sustain them. 

“These guys, they got three-quarters of a million just in the boat,” he says. “And the gear, another quarter-million dollars. They are a million.” 

Maine’s fishing fleet is the newest in the nation among states with more than 200 U.S. Coast Guard-documented commercial fishing vessels. And it’s not close. Maine’s boats are an average 24 years old. The average age of the next two states, Massachusetts and Louisiana, is 31. Alaskan boats’ average age is 37, Oregon, 45. 

Still, Frazier doesn’t begrudge the money that younger skippers on newer boats are making. 

“I mean, these guys work hard and they go hard and put a lot of time in,” Frazier says. “Young guys, go-getters. And they did it right at the exact right time.” 

Six-figure income 

Back when Drew Eaton was in grade school, it took him two years to buy that first boat, which a family friend’s daughter no longer used. 

“I could buy half the boat and the motor the same year,” he says. He worked for the lobsterman the next summer to pay off the balance. 

Eaton left Stonington after graduating from high school and went to Pennsylvania for a year to study automotive collision repair. He didn’t stay in that field for long. “I worked in a body shop for a year, and I was getting $12 an hour,” he says. 

So he returned to what he knew. 

The young lobsterman’s boat now easily produces a six-figure income before expenses. He doesn’t linger on doubts about the future of lobstering in Maine. He leaves that for others. 

When he bought his last boat, he says, his parents were skeptical. “They thought I was going too quick.”  

Eaton was 22 and it was the same type of boat his father had just bought. 

“And then I started catching more than Dad. And then I wasn’t moving so quick.” 

And besides, he says, “I am young enough that if I fail, I can start over again in something totally different.” 

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Google Spinoff to Test Truly Driverless Cars in California

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The robotic car company created by Google is poised to attempt a major technological leap in California, where its vehicles will hit the roads without a human on hand to take control in emergencies.

The regulatory approval announced Tuesday allows Waymo’s driverless cars to cruise through California at speeds up to 65 miles per hour. 

The self-driving cars have traveled millions of miles on the state’s roads since Waymo began as a secretive project within Google nearly a decade ago. But a backup driver had been required to be behind the wheel until new regulations in April set the stage for the transition to true autonomy. 

Waymo is the first among dozens of companies testing self-driving cars in California to persuade state regulators its technology is safe enough to permit them on the roads without a safety driver in them. An engineer still must monitor the fully autonomous cars from a remote location and be able to steer and stop the vehicles if something goes wrong.

Free rides in Arizona

California, however, won’t be the first state to have Waymo’s fully autonomous cars on its streets. Waymo has been giving rides to a group of volunteer passengers in Arizona in driverless cars since last year. It has pledged to deploy its fleet of fully autonomous vans in Arizona in a ride-hailing service open to all comers in the Phoenix area by the end of this year.

But California has a much larger population and far more congestion than Arizona, making it even more challenging place for robotic cars to get around.

Waymo is moving into its next phase in California cautiously. To start, the fully autonomous cars will only give rides to Waymo’s employees and confine their routes to roads in its home town of Mountain View, California, and four neighboring Silicon Valley cities — Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, and Palo Alto.

If all goes well, Waymo will then seek volunteers who want to be transported in fully autonomous vehicles, similar to its early rider program in Arizona . That then could lead to a ride-hailing service like the one Waymo envisions in Arizona.

Can Waymo cars be trusted?

But Waymo’s critics are not convinced there is enough evidence that the fully autonomous cars can be trusted to be driving through neighborhoods without humans behind the wheel. 

“This will allow Waymo to test its robotic cars using people as human guinea pigs,” said John Simpson, privacy and technology project director for Consumer Watchdog, a group that has repeatedly raised doubts about the safety of self-driving cars.

Those concerns escalated in March after fatal collision involving a self-driving car being tested by the leading ride-hailing service, Uber. In that incident, an Uber self-driving car with a human safety driver struck and killed a pedestrian crossing a darkened street in a Phoenix suburb.

Waymo’s cars with safety drivers have been involved in dozens of accidents in California, but those have mostly been minor fender benders at low speeds.

 All told, Waymo says its self-driving cars have collectively logged more than 10 million miles in 25 cities in a handful of states while in autonomous mode, although most of those trips have occurred with safety drivers.

Will Waymo save lives?

Waymo contends its robotic vehicles will save lives because so many crashes are caused by human motorists who are intoxicated, distracted or just bad drivers.

“If a Waymo vehicle comes across a situation it doesn’t understand, it does what any good driver would do: comes to a safe stop until it does understand how to proceed,” the company said Tuesday.

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Pacific Trade Pact to Start at End of 2018 After Six Members Ratify

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A landmark 11-member trade deal aimed at slashing barriers in some of Asia Pacific’s fastest growing economies will come into force at the end of December, the New Zealand government said on Wednesday.

The deal would move forward after Australia informed New Zealand that it had become the sixth nation to formally ratify the deal, alongside Canada, Japan, Mexico and Singapore.

“This triggers the 60 day countdown to entry into force of the Agreement and the first round of tariff cuts,” said New Zealand Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker. His country is responsible for official tasks such as receiving and circulating notifications made by members of the pact.

The original 12-member deal was thrown into limbo early last year when President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement to prioritize protecting U.S. jobs.

The 11 remaining nations, led by Japan, finalized a revised trade pact in January, called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

The success of the deal has been touted by officials in Japan and other member countries as an antidote to counter growing U.S. protectionism, and with the hope that Washington would eventually sign back up.

Australia said the agreement will boost agricultural exports, set to be worth more than A$52 billion ($36.91 billion) this year despite a crippling drought across much of the country’s east coast.

“It will give Australian grain farmers a good reason to smile, at a time when drought conditions have played havoc for many, by ensuring improved market access and better grain prices once more favorable seasonal conditions return,” said Luke Mathews, trading and economics manager at industry body, GrainGrowers Australia.

The deal will reduce tariffs in economies that together amount to more than 13 percent of global GDP — a total of $10 trillion. With the United States, it would have represented 40 percent.

The five member countries still to ratify the deal are Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Peru and Vietnam.

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