Albany, Apr 26(AP/UNB) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo and fellow Democrats who control the Legislature have reached a deal to make New York the third state with a ban on single-use plastic grocery bags as they worked to finalize budget agreements, officials said Friday.
The ban would prohibit grocery stores from providing plastic bags for most purchases, something California has been doing since a statewide ban was approved in 2016. Hawaii has an effective statewide ban, with all its counties imposing their own restrictions.
Supporters of such bans say they keep plastic bags from entering the environment and causing damage to ecosystems and waterways.
"With this smart, multi-pronged action New York will be leading the way to protect our natural resources now and for future generations of New Yorkers," Cuomo, who proposed a ban in his $175 billion budget proposal, said in a statement Friday.
New York's ban wouldn't take effect until next March. The plan also calls for allowing local governments the option to impose a 5-cent fee on paper bags, with 3 cents going to the state's Environmental Protection Fund and 2 cents kept by local governments.
Environmental conservation advocates had also been pushing for a statewide fee for paper bags as a way to encourage wider consumer use of reusable bags.
Nonetheless, Patrick McClellan, state policy director for the New York League of Conservation Voters, said his group was "thrilled" that the bag ban appears headed for passage.
"Plastic bags pollute our waterways and streets, and both plastic and paper bags contribute to the solid waste crisis and cost taxpayers money," he said. "While the best policy would be a ban on plastic bags coupled with a statewide fee on other disposable bags, this agreement represents a tremendous step forward."
Lawmakers are facing a Monday deadline on a budget agreement. Negotiations on other aspects of Cuomo's proposed $175 billion spending plan are continuing Friday, with the Senate and Assembly expected to start passing budget bills Sunday ahead of the April 1 start of the state's 2019-2020 fiscal year.
Lawmakers have also agreed on a measure that would close up to three yet-to-be-determined state prisons. Cuomo announced last month he wanted to reduce the number of facilities because of the state's declining inmate population.
The budget will also contain a provision requiring employers to give workers three hours off to vote on election day.
Another provision set for the budget would impose congestion tolls to ease traffic in the busiest parts of Manhattan and fund transit improvements, but details are still being discussed.
Negotiations are also continuing on a proposal to tax luxury second homes in Manhattan worth more than $5 million. The option now being considered would impose a one-time tax paid when the properties are sold, Cuomo told reporters Friday.
Revenue from the tax would go to transit.
Other pending issues still being negotiated included criminal justice reform and public financing of political campaigns.
One of the other big issues of the year — the legalization of recreational marijuana — will not be included in the budget. Cuomo said Friday that lawmakers need more time to work out the details to regulation.
Washington, Apr 25 (AP/UNB) — Former Vice President Joe Biden formally joined the crowded Democratic presidential contest on Thursday, declaring the soul of the nation at stake if President Donald Trump wins re-election.
In a video posted on Twitter , Biden focused on the 2017 deadly clash between white supremacists and counter protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. Biden noted Trump's comments that there were some "very fine people" on both sides of the violent encounter, which left one woman dead.
"We are in the battle for the soul of this nation," Biden said. "If we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation — who we are. And I cannot stand by and watch that happen."
The 76-year-old Biden becomes an instant front-runner alongside Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is leading many polls and has proved to be a successful fundraiser . Among Democrats, Biden has unmatched international and legislative experience, and he is among the best-known faces in U.S. politics. He quickly racked up endorsements on Thursday morning, becoming the first Democrat running for president with the backing of more than one U.S. senator.
Still, Biden must compete in a field that now spans at least 20 Democrats and has been celebrated for its racial and gender diversity. As an older white man with occasionally centrist views, Biden has to prove he's not out of step with his party. He's betting that his working-class appeal and ties to Barack Obama's presidency will help him overcome those questions.
Biden has said he would campaign as an "Obama-Biden Democrat," who is as pragmatic as he is progressive.
Just minutes after the announcement, the GOP lashed out against Biden's record in the Obama administration, a line of attack in sharp contrast with recent criticism against other 2020 Democrats that has largely focused on them being too liberal, or even socialists.
"Biden's fingerprints are all over foreign policy blunders and the weakest economic recovery since World War II," Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Ahrens said. "We don't need eight more years of Biden. Just ask President Obama, who isn't even endorsing his right-hand man."
While it's true that Obama hasn't explicitly endorsed Biden's bid, the former president took the unusual step of weighing in on Thursday's announcement through a spokeswoman.
"President Obama has long said that selecting Joe Biden as his running mate in 2008 was one of the best decisions he ever made," Obama spokeswoman Katie Hill said. "He relied on the vice president's knowledge, insight, and judgment throughout both campaigns and the entire presidency. The two forged a special bond over the last 10 years and remain close today."
Privately, Trump allies have warned that Biden might be the biggest re-election threat given the former vice president's potential appeal among the white working class in the Midwest, the region that gave Trump a path to the presidency.
Biden is paying special attention to Pennsylvania, a state that swung to Trump in 2016 after voting for Democratic presidential candidates for decades.
The former vice president will be in the state three times within the opening weeks of his campaign. He'll be in Philadelphia on Thursday evening headlining a fundraiser at the home of David L. Cohen, executive senior vice president of Comcast. Biden is aiming to raise $500,000 at the event.
He will hold an event in Pittsburgh on Monday and will return to Philadelphia in the next two weeks for a major rally.
He's scheduled to make his first media appearance as a 2020 presidential contender Friday morning on ABC's "The View," a move that may help him make an appeal to women whose support will be crucial to winning the primary.
As he neared his campaign launch, Biden's challenges have come into greater focus.
He struggled last month to respond to claims that he touched 2014 Nevada lieutenant governor nominee Lucy Flores' shoulders and kissed the back of her head before a fall campaign event. A handful of other women have made similar claims, though none has alleged sexual misconduct.
Biden, a former U.S. senator from Delaware, pledged in an online video to be "much more mindful" of respecting personal space but joked two days later that he "had permission" to hug a male union leader before addressing the group's national conference.
Biden also has been repeatedly forced to explain his 1991 decision, as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, to allow Anita Hill to face difficult questions from an all-male panel about allegations of sexual harassment against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, who later was confirmed to the high court.
He has since apologized for his role in the hearing. But in the #MeToo era, particularly after the contentious confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the episode remains a significant political liability.
Likewise, Biden once played a key role in anti-crime legislation that had a disproportionately negative impact on African Americans. And while several 2020 Democratic contenders have embraced the possibility of reparations to African Americans for slavery in recent weeks, Biden last month struggled to explain comments he made as a freshman senator in 1975 about the school busing debate.
His first White House bid in 1988 ended after a plagiarism scandal. He dropped out of the 2008 race after earning less than 1 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses. Later that year, Obama named Biden as his running mate.
New York, Apr 24 (AP/UNB) — Global oil prices are rising in the wake of President Donald Trump's decision to impose sanctions on nations that import Iranian oil and could eventually climb to levels that would impact American consumers.
Analysts said Tuesday that by taking Iranian crude off the market, the price of Brent crude oil — which is traded internationally — could rise to $80 per barrel or higher, depending on what happens in other countries where supply is at risk.
"That would certainly be felt by U.S. consumers, especially going into the driving season over the summer," said Paul Sheldon, chief geopolitical adviser at S&P Global Platts Analytics.
International Brent oil rose 47 cents to $74.51 Tuesday while U.S. West Texas Intermediate rose 75 cents to $66.30.
The U.S. announced the sanctions in November but some countries got temporary waivers that allowed them to import Iranian oil. The U.S. now says those waivers, which primarily impact China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey, will expire May 2.
Prices haven't been this high since late October.
Pavel Molchanov, energy analyst at Raymond James, said that the oil market was under-supplied even before the decision to end the waivers. Now that the waivers are being withdrawn, "we think it will be even more under-supplied than before," he said.
The price of Brent crude oil could reach a high of $100 a barrel in 2020, which could have a more meaningful impact on the U.S. economy, Molchanov said.
But even before then, countries with weaker economies and currencies and little to no oil supply of their own such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sub-Saharan African countries will feel the pain of rising prices, he added.
Raymond James had predicted a global undersupply of 740,000 barrels per day in 2019, and an additional undersupply of 460,000 barrels per day in 2020 prior to Monday's announcement. Ending the sanction waivers contributes to the undersupply by another 300,000 barrels a day, Molchanov said.
President Donald Trump made the decision as part of the administration's "maximum pressure" campaign on Iran that aims to eliminate all of its revenue from oil exports that the U.S. says funds destabilizing activity throughout the Middle East and beyond.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday the U.S. is counting on ally Saudi Arabia and other producers to ensure sufficient supply, along with increased U.S. production.
Analysts expect Saudi Arabia to move cautiously to fill in the gaps because if the country moves too quickly to boost supply that could depress the price.
Trump announced sanctions last year, but the waivers wrong-footed key oil producing countries in the OPEC cartel after they had increased supply in expectation of lower Iranian exports.
"Once Brent got over $80 a barrel in October of 2018, that was when the Trump administration ultimately decided to give waivers," said Sheldon of S&P Global Platts Analytics. It's unclear whether Trump would rethink his policy on Iran if prices reach that level again, he added.
Raymond James analysts said the Saudis would likely start ramping up production in the third quarter of this year once a decline in Iranian supply is confirmed.
Replacing Iranian oil with Saudi Arabian output would drive down spare capacity in the world, and "the extra oil the world could have in an emergency would be gone," said Kevin Book, managing director of Clearview Energy Partners.
"It's a pretty tight market right now, and taking away that layer of spare capacity may not may not make things more expensive if everything's fine, but the history of the oil market is that everything isn't always fine," Book said.
Even so, Book said he wouldn't draw too many conclusions from a few days of trading.
The last time oil prices surpassed $100 a barrel was during the Arab Spring uprisings, which curtailed supply and pushed Brent prices past that mark from 2011 through 2014. That was particularly painful timing for American consumers because the U.S. was coming out of the Great Recession.
European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic expressed "regret" Tuesday over the U.S. decision to end the waivers and said it "risks further undermining" the Iran nuclear deal.
Trump pulled out of that pact last year, saying it does nothing to stop Tehran developing missiles or destabilizing the Middle East. Since then, the European Union has put measures in place to side-step U.S. sanctions on Iran, including a way to keep financial supply lines to Tehran open and protect European businesses operating there.
Tonala, Apr 24 (AP/UNB) — Central American migrants traveling through southern Mexico toward the U.S. on Tuesday fearfully recalled their frantic escape from police the previous day, scuttling under barbed wire fences into pastures and then spending the night in the woods after hundreds were detained in a raid.
In the Chiapas state town of Tonala, migrants flocked to one of the few places they felt they could be safe — the local Roman Catholic church — only to start with fear at the sound of a passing ambulance's siren.
"There are people still lost up in the woods. The woods are very dangerous," said Arturo Hernández, a sinewy 59-year-old farmer from Comayagua, Honduras, who fled through the woods with his grandson. "They waited until we were resting and fell upon us, grabbing children and women."
Mexican immigration authorities said 371 people were detained Monday in what was the largest single raid so far on a migrant caravan since the groups started moving through the country last year.
The once large caravan of about 3,000 people was essentially broken up by the raid, as migrants fled into the hills, took refuge at shelters and churches or hopped passing freight trains. A brave few groups straggled along the highways, but with dozens of police and immigration checkpoints, they were bound to be caught.
Journalists from The Associated Press saw police target isolated groups at the tail end of the caravan near Pijijiapan Monday, wrestling migrants into police vehicles for transport and presumably deportation as children wailed.
Now terrified of walking exposed on the highways, some turned in desperation to a tactic that used to be a popular way north, clambering aboard a passing freight train bound for the neighboring state of Tabasco. It's been years since migrants hopped trains in large numbers.
Javier Núñez, a 25-year-old Honduran, said he and his family walked through the hills, along a river and by some train tracks after Monday's raid before venturing into the town of Pijijiapan to find something to eat. But agents appeared again Monday night and detained his wife and son, who he said were taken to an immigration facility in Tapachula for deportation processing.
"They were hunting us," Núñez said. As he sees it, the only thing to do is go on alone, see how far he can make it. "Now we are afraid of everyone who looks at us or approaches."
Asked about the detentions at a Tuesday morning news conference, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador acknowledged that the government is not letting migrants simply go wherever they please. He denied taking a hard line, saying controls are for migrants' security because human traffickers are allegedly infiltrated among the caravans.
"We don't want for them to just have free passage, not just out of legal concerns but for questions of safety," López Obrador said.
His immigration chief, Tonatiuh Guillén, said later that Monday's incident was "regrettable," particularly in the case of the children who were frightened.
He said it was not something he wanted to repeat. But he also maintained it was a normal migration enforcement action.
Guillén said Mexico has deported 11,800 migrants so far this month and is being more selective in who is given a humanitarian visa, which allows a migrant to remain in the country and work.
Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero said the migrants who were detained Monday had refused to register for a regional visa that would have allowed them to remain in southern Mexico.
While U.S. President Donald Trump has ramped up public pressure on Mexico to do more to stem the flow of Central American migration through its territory, López Obrador has rejected criticism from some that the immigration policy seems unclear or even contradictory.
In recent months Mexico has deported thousands of migrants. It has also issued more than 15,000 humanitarian visas.
AP journalists who were present for the raid did not witness any initial violent behavior by the migrants, though immigration authorities said otherwise. During a second detention operation, some from the caravan took up rocks and clubs and at least one stone was thrown, but authorities did not report any injuries to agents.
It was "a planned ambush ... to break up this caravan," said Denis Aguilar, a factory union leader from San Pedro Sula, Honduras. "They grabbed the children ... the strollers are abandoned there."
Aguilar said he and his brother fled through the woods until they found a ranch house whose residents took them in. In the morning, the family drove them to a bus stop.
Maria Mesa, a homemaker from La Esperanza, Honduras, said she saw officials tugging children as their mothers battled to pull them through the barbed wire fences. She saw other children weeping, alone, on the edge of the woods. Mesa has kids of her own, but left them home because she knew it would be a hard journey.
Her decision to go alone contrasts with the many thousands of others from Central America migrating with relatives toward the U.S. border, where detentions of people traveling in families have spiked. They typically say they are fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries, and many hope to seek asylum.
Those who arrive at the U.S. border must contend with policies limiting how many are allowed to apply for refuge each day. The United States has also returned some to wait in Mexico while their asylum cases inch through a backlogged court system. Trump recently told migrants not to come, saying: "Our country is full, turn around."
Migrants who opt to join caravans do so figuring there is safety in numbers and also because it is a relatively inexpensive alternative to paying thousands of dollars to a "coyote," or smuggler.
But they are finding it a much tougher go through Mexico than before. In addition to Monday's dramatic raid, migrants have experienced a cooler reaction from townspeople, who last year donated food and clothing but have grown tired of the groups. Migrants say once-friendly Mexicans now refuse to give even water, leaving them no choice but to drink from puddles at times.
"People don't want them to enter the towns," said Gerardo Lara Espinosa, a bus dispatcher in Tonala, who said the caravans are seen as overwhelming small towns and hurting businesses.
Mexican officials said last month they would try to contain migrants in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Mexico's narrowest stretch and the easiest to control. Pijijiapan is not far from the isthmus' narrowest point, in neighboring Oaxaca state.
About 300 migrants hopped a train Monday to Ixtepec, in Oaxaca. On Tuesday, others were walking along the road to Tonala, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Pijijiapan.
Jorge Herrera, a farm worker from El Progreso, Honduras, said he and his 7-year-old son fled through the woods after the raid. The boy is sunburned and has cuts and mosquito bites. Herrera thinks López Obrador is doing Trump's dirty work.
"He must be bought. He must be paid for them to do this to us," Herrera said.
Bamako, Apr 23 (AP/UNB) — Mali's president has chosen an economist to replace the prime minister following growing violence by ethnic militias in the country's center.
Boubou Cisse, the 45-year-old finance minister, is seen as a close ally of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
Cisse's appointment was the sixth made by the president since he took power in 2013.
Mali's former prime minister, Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga, resigned under pressure amid the insecurity in central Mali.
The conflict drew an international outcry after an attack last month left 154 people dead.
Members of ethnic groups on both sides of the rival militias say the army has failed to protect them, complicating government efforts to disarm the fighters.