Washington, July 8 (AP/UNB) — U.S. consumers borrowed more on their credit cards in May and also took out more student and auto loans, a modest sign of economic health.
The Federal Reserve said Monday that consumer borrowing increased 5% that month, just below April's 5.2% rise. Total outstanding consumer debt, which excludes mortgages, stood at nearly $4.1 trillion in May.
Steady increases in consumer borrowing echo other recent data showing that consumers remain confident in the economy and willing to spend. Retail sales rose for the third straight month in May. Consumer confidence, as measured by the Conference Board, a business research group, is at historically high levels, though it slipped in June.
Consumer credit is monitored by many economists because consumer spending powers about two-thirds of U.S. economic activity.
Still, the economy is expected to have slowed in the April-June quarter from the first three months of the year, economists forecast. Growth was likely about 1.5% to 2% at an annual rate, down from 3.1% in the first quarter.
U.S. trade fights with China and weaker global growth have caused many businesses to pull back on purchases of new plant and equipment. Companies also built up large stockpiles of goods in warehouses and on store shelves in the first quarter, which suggests they are ordering fewer new items.
U.S. businesses are still adding jobs at a healthy clip, which should keep workers willing to spend. Employers added 224,000 jobs in June, a solid increase, while the unemployment rate rose to a still-low 3.7% from 3.6%.
Huntington, July 8 (AP/UNB) — First lady Melania Trump visited West Virginia on Monday to learn how a city at the center of the nation's opioid epidemic is grappling with the crisis.
She met with federal, state and local officials in Huntington and heard how the area's police, schools and health care centers are trying to fight the opioid scourge.
"I am here to give you my support," Trump told participants in the roundtable discussion.
West Virginia has the country's highest fatal opioid overdose rate and has struggled, like many other states, to confront the many aspects of the problem. Huntington Mayor Steve Williams characterized it as a grim task.
"If not another gram of heroin is distributed, if not another gram of heroin is sold, we will be dealing with this issue for the next four or five decades," he said.
The first lady asked how the crisis is hurting children and was told about research on babies born addicted to opioids and about addicted teens who need a different system of care. U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin described the challenges that arise when kids are taken from addicted parents and placed into foster care.
The first lady also spoke separately with a small group that included the city's fire chief and the head of a medical center that specializes in caring for babies born addicted to drugs.
"We are looking forward to working on the problems West Virginia is facing with the opioid crisis," she told them.
Washington, July 8 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump is promoting what he is calling his administration's "environmental leadership" despite its sweeping rollbacks of landmark environmental and public health protections. Critics are calling it a credulity-straining gesture aimed at winning over voters worried about climate change and pollution.
Trump's speech at the White House on Monday afternoon will focus on the administration's "practical approach to addressing environmental challenges while also supporting a strong economy," Mary Neumayr, who heads the president's Council on Environmental Quality, told reporters in previewing his remarks.
Polls show increasing numbers of voters are identifying the environment and climate change as priorities, although the issues are a much bigger concern for Democrats rather than for Trump's Republican base.
Trump has a tough case to make as an environmental steward given his record, according to former environmental advocates and former federal regulators.
Mustafa Santiago Ali, a former official in the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Environmental Justice, said the White House is recognizing that "the majority of folks in the country are now beginning to pay attention to climate issues and environmental issues."
He said administration officials are "trying to reframe the conversation to make people think they've done something to better protect them. And unfortunately they haven't done a single thing." He pointed to EPA estimates that proposed rollbacks for fossil fuel emissions will cause thousands of additional deaths annually from air pollution.
In the view of a former senior EPA transportation engineer, Jeff Alson, the administration's claims of environment leadership are "truly Orwellian." Alson has accused the administration of fudging data to support easing vehicle mileage standards.
Candidate Trump campaigned on a pledge to eradicate all but a "little bit" of the EPA. As president, he routinely has proposed cutting the agency's budget by almost one-third. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have blocked the proposed cuts.
The administration has initiated dozens of regulatory changes, at times proposing cutting rules even more than regulated industries requested, as in the case of mileage standards.
The biggest changes include easing federal Clean Water Act protections for millions of miles of waterways and wetlands, a cut welcomed by developers and many farmers. Other changes would ease regulation and support the coal industry and oil and gas companies, sources of heat-trapping fossil fuel emissions and air pollutants.
Critics say other changes favor industry over science in environmental and public health protections.
Trump has pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord and dismissed federal scientists' warnings on climate change. In tweets, he has mocked hopes for more global warming during winter cold snaps.
In comments before the speech, Neumayr and EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler pointed to overall U.S. progress cleaning up the air and water since the 1970s, and said progress has continued under Trump.
Earlier this year, seven of the 10 surviving, Senate-confirmed heads of the EPA signed a letter urging lawmakers to step up oversight of the agency and make it focus on its mission of protecting public health and the environment.
In December, an Associated Press-NORC poll found Democrats driving an increase in the share of Americans who name the environment and climate change as an important issue for the government to work on in 2019. About 4 in 10 Democrats (39 included the environment as a priority, compared with just 8% of Republicans. The share of Democrats naming the environment grew 11 percentage points, from 28% a year ago.
In January, 30% expressed approval of the way Trump was handling climate change, while 68% disapproved, according to an AP-NORC poll. Just 8% of Democrats approved of Trump on climate change and, compared with other issues, a relatively small majority of Republicans — 67% — did as well.
Trump's speech came hours after a rainfall in the nation's capital region that set records for the date, raised creeks as much as 11 feet and flooded the White House basement. The deluge highlighted the weather extremes of hurricanes, floods and wildfires that polls show are helping to fuel public concerns about climate change.
Washington, July 7 (AP/UNB) — Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan on Sunday defended conditions at U.S. Border Patrol stations following reports of crowded and unsanitary conditions that have heightened debate about President Donald Trump's immigration policy, a trademark issue for his reelection campaign.
"It's an extraordinarily challenging situation," McAleenan told ABC's "This Week."
The Homeland Security Department's internal watchdog provided new details Tuesday about severe overcrowding in Texas' Rio Grande Valley, the busiest corridor for illegal crossings. The report said children at three facilities had no access to showers and that some children under age 7 had been held in jammed centers for more than two weeks. Some cells were so cramped that adults were forced to stand for days on end.
Government inspectors described an increasingly dangerous situation, both for migrants and agents — a "ticking time bomb," in the words of one facility manager. The report echoed findings in May by the department's inspector general about holding centers in El Paso, Texas: 900 people crammed into a cell with a maximum capacity of 125; detainees standing on toilets to have room to breathe; others wearing soiled clothing for days or weeks.
Democrats faulted Trump for not offering an immigration overhaul that could pass a divided Congress. "The president is acting like we are some weak, pathetic country," said Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democratic presidential candidate. "We have the ability to treat human beings humanly. We have the ability to lead our hemisphere in a discussion about how to deal with this refugee crisis," he said on "Fox News Sunday."
McAleenan said that since the first of the year, 200 medical providers have been added to facilities, including personnel from the U.S. Coast Guard and the Public Health Service Commission Corps.
"We have pediatricians in border patrol stations for the first time in history trying to help address conditions where children are coming across 300 a day in ... April and May," McAleenan said.
"We've built soft-sided temporary facilities. These are spaces that are much more appropriate — high ceilings, more room for children and families. We've put them both in Donna, Texas, in South Texas as well as in El Paso to provide additional space. ... We've bought buses to transport people to better places."
McAleenan disputed news reports, including those by The Associated Press, of especially troubling conditions at a border station in Clint, Texas, where a stench was coming from children's clothing and some detainees were suffering from scabies and chickenpox.
"There's adequate food and water," he said. "The facility's cleaned every day, because I know what our standards are and I know they're been followed because we have tremendous levels of oversight. Five levels of oversight.
"Inadequate food, inadequate water and unclean cells. None of those have been substantiated."
He said everyone in the chain of command is worried about the situation of children detained at the border. He said that on June 1, his department had 2,500 children in custody, including 1,200 who had been there for more than three days. As of Saturday, McAleenan said there were 350 children, and only 20 have been in the department's custody for more than three days.
"So that's huge improvement based on the resources we asked for from Congress and were finally given," he said.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., told NBC's "Meet the Press" that he is stunned when administration officials say that reports on the conditions are unsubstantiated.
"I'm just like, 'What world are they living in?'" Merkley said, citing government and news reports. "From every direction you see that the children are being treated in a horrific manner. And there's an underlying philosophy that it's OK to treat refugees in this fashion. And that's really the rot at the core of the administration's policy."
Separately, McAleenan addressed questions about U.S. Border Patrol agents who are under fire for posting offensive messages in a "secret" Facebook group that included sexually explicit posts about U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and dismissive references to the deaths of migrants in U.S. custody. The existence of that group was reported Monday by ProPublica. Prior to that, few people outside the group had ever heard of it.
He said an allegation about such activity was investigated in 2016. "Discipline was meted out on an agent that made an offensive post on that website," he said.
Havana, Jul 7 (AP/UNB) — Accident investigators in the Bahamas say they' have recovered the helicopter that crashed after taking off from a remote private island on July 4, killing coal billionaire Chris Cline and six other Americans, as well as a British citizen.
The Bahamas Air Accident Investigation Department said on its website that a Florida-based contractor pulled the Agusta AW139 helicopter from the ocean late Saturday night.
The helicopter was expected to be taken to Fort Lauderdale and then to an accident investigation facility in Fort Pierce, Florida.
Authorities have said it is too early to draw conclusions about the cause of the crash. They do not believe a distress call was made, and they only began searching after police received a report from Florida that the craft had failed to arrive in Fort Lauderdale as expected.
Those killed included Cline's 22-year-old daughter, Kameron, and three of her close friends: Brittney Layne Searson, Jillian Clark, and Delaney Wykle. Searson, Clark and Kameron Cline were recent graduates of Louisiana State University. Wykle had recently graduated from West Virginia University.
Brad Ullman, executive director of the West Virginia Golf Association, confirmed that David Jude also was killed in the crash.
Bahamas Police Supt. Shanta Knowles said Saturday that Geoffrey Painter of Barnstaple in the United Kingdom also was killed, and she confirmed the other victims' identities to The Associated Press.
Cline began toiling in the mines of southern West Virginia at a young age, rising through the ranks of his father's company quickly before forming his own energy development business, the Cline Group, which grew into one of the country's top coal producers.
He went on to amass a fortune and became a major Republican donor.
Paula Wykle, Delaney's mother, said her daughter had just passed her nursing boards and when one of the vacationing party got sick and needed to be transported back to the mainland, Delaney Wykle wanted to be there to help.
"She got to practice nursing for one day," Wykle said, calling her daughter "smart, loving, and one of the best friends anyone could ever ask for."
The accident investigation department also said it was interviewing witnesses on Big Grand Cay, the island owned by Cline. The department has said the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Safety Board of Italy and the manufacturer of the aircraft and engine would all provide assistance with the investigation.