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Protests Over Michael Brown Verdict Continue in Oakland

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PBS NewsHour

Why open Atlantic offshore drilling now?

Oil Declines Below 60USD A Barrel

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Less than 48 hours after the president announced a proposal to block energy development in Alaska’s Arctic Refuge, his administration said today it plans to open up parts of the Atlantic Coast for oil and gas exploration.

The proposal would allow offshore drilling along the southeastern Atlantic Coast for the first time, from Virginia down to Georgia.  Companies could win leases for drilling, but would have to keep a 50-mile buffer from coastal areas in case of a spill.

The plan would, however, block exploration in some waters off Alaska’s North Slope.

We take a closer look at what this could mean, and the reaction to this series of moves, with Amy Harder, who reports for The Wall Street Journal.

Welcome to the program.

AMY HARDER, The Wall Street Journal: Thanks for having me on.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, why is the administration announcing this right now, 48 hours, as we said, after the other announcement?

AMY HARDER: Well, it’s certainly not a coincidence.

The administration has — since President Obama became president, has really done a got of give-and-take with this energy and environment policy.  So they came out on Sunday announcing that they’re going to put away about 13 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge away as wilderness, which really puts it off to oil and gas development.

Of course, this plan out of the Interior Department is required by law, but they wanted to show the environmental base and some congressional Democrats that they’re committed to protecting some of these lands.  At the same time, they’re clearly giving some support to the industry by opening up, cautiously, some of these areas.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And how controversial is this announcement that they’re going to allow oil and gas drilling, or they tentatively will allow it, between Virginia and Georgia?


And I think it’s important to say tentatively, because Secretary Sally Jewell of the Interior Department stressed that this is the broadest plan that they’re going to consider.  When it goes final in the next couple of years, they may whittle it down to something smaller than what they proposed today.

But the move to even consider drilling off the Atlantic Coast is significant.  There’s no drilling there now.  There’s been very little ever in the history of that region to have drilling there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But is there consistency here?  I mean, on the one hand, they’re saying you can’t drill in — mainly off the North Slope of Alaska along that very fragile coastal area, but you can drill along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, off the coast.  What’s the difference?

AMY HARDER: I think one big difference with the Atlantic Coast is a lot of those governors and lawmakers from Virginia down to Georgia actually support the prospect of offshore drilling, because they hope to reap the economic benefits from that.

So that’s one reason that Secretary Jewell cited as the purpose of opening up at least one lease sale in that region.  I think it’s also important to note that the Democrats representing the states north of Virginia are not happy about this.  They’re worried about spills.  They don’t think that the safety standards are up to par enough.

And so I think you’re going to see a big congressional pushback on that front as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But is the argument the administration is making, one of them, that this — this region along the Mid-Atlantic is not as fragile as what’s in Alaska?

AMY HARDER: I think what the administration has said is that the conditions in the Arctic are very unique, especially compared to the Gulf of Mexico, where most of the offshore oil is done, and the Atlantic.  The weather is very cold, very icy.  The season for drilling at all is a small window, given the cold weather.

But I think that’s a point that congressional Democrats make when they don’t want the drilling off of the Atlantic Coast.  I think that the administration actually did propose a lease sale off the Atlantic Coast in 2010, but promptly retreated on that in the wake of the BP oil spill that occurred just a couple of months, ironically, after that announcement.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And so what has changed since then?  They were willing to do it in 2010, as you point out.  They pulled back after the big spill in the Gulf.  What happened?

AMY HARDER: Well, Congress actually never passed a law requiring tougher standards in offshore drilling because of the typical congressional gridlock, but the administration said it has done a lot to beef up its own regulations, what it can do without Congress.

There’s also two pending regulations coming down the pike that they will also cite as to why the safety standards are up to par.  One is require tougher standards on blowout preventers, which is a type of drilling equipment that was partly to blame for the BP disaster, and then, secondly, there’s also regulations coming to require special standards in Arctic drilling.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Amy Harder, finally, how likely is this proposal, as we’re looking at it right now, to become reality, to become the regulations that are governing what companies can do?


The answer to that question will come in two years or so.  And even if there was drilling off the Atlantic Coast, executives say that wouldn’t happen until 2030.  So I think the plan can only get narrower.  And given the president’s commitment to climate change, I wouldn’t be surprised if they ultimately took it out of the final plan.  So, at this point, it’s too far early to say.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Amy Harder with The Wall Street Journal, we thank you very much.

AMY HARDER: Thanks for having me.

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Budget outlook shows deficits, health costs down, but debt continues to rise

Digital composite, US Capitol with one hundred dollar bill, Image by Travel Images/UIG via Getty Images.

A new Congressional Budget Office report forecasts that under current policy, the deficit will start to rise again in 2018. Image by Travel Images/UIG via Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • CBO projects deficits and health care costs are down
  • But debt is expected to continue to rise
  • Billionaire or Bust: Kochs’ nearly billion-dollar campaign likely to make 2016 most expensive in history

The next big problem: government red ink First a little happy news: budget cuts and increased revenue (from a warming-up economy among other things) have again cut the federal deficit. The Congressional Budget Office predicted Monday that the deficit will again dip in 2015, down to $468 billion. More importantly, that’s 2.6 percent of GDP, which is below average and which hovers around the current economic growth rate, making it a potentially sustainable level of red ink. But that isn’t going to last long.

The problem The same CBO report gave a sharp warning about the years just around the corner, forecasting that under current policy (including the sequester/budget cuts) the deficit will start to rise again in 2018. And that the nation will again be hitting trillion-dollar budget shortfalls starting in 2025. (Why? Medicare and Social Security are one major reason.) The result? The national debt will reach 79 percent of GDP by 2025, “eventually heightening the risk of a fiscal crisis,” CBO writes. The graph ahead is not pretty — one of our favorites is this one looking at debt as a percentage of GDP from the Committee for a Responsible Fiscal Budget.


This makes for a clear and potentially dangerous dip. Congress and the next president will live with a few years of potential fiscal stability but those years will be their best chance to try and avert the coming steep issues ahead. In other words, this tees up a major issue for the next president.

A change in costs of the new healthcare law: Deep inside the CBO report (Appendix B, pg 129) is an interesting conclusion about how much the health insurance provisions in president’s Affordable Care Act will cost government. The CBO states that cost will ultimately be 20 percent lower than the office initially expected. Why? This gets a bit wonky, but CBO says the driving force is largely an increase in children getting health care through Medicaid. Wait? That’s a government program, right? Yes, but when children go on Medicaid, they sometimes come off the health insurance their parents have through their jobs. That health insurance is a nontaxable benefit. Removing it increases the tax base and raises revenue. We warned you this was wonky. Basically, CBO says more children are expected to move from private health care to Medicaid. CBO Director Doug Elmendorf will get asked about all of it today at 10:30 a.m. EST when he testifies before the House Budget Committee.

2016 will likely be the most expensive election in history: It was revealed Monday that the billionaire Koch Brothers network is vowing to spend some $889 million in 2016, more than double the approximately $400 million it spent in 2012. That is a whopping number and an early indicator that 2016 will be the most expensive in American electoral history. Consider that a TOTAL of just more than $2 billion was spent in 2012, the previous record for most expensive, and it would be more than either President Obama’s ($684 million) or Mitt Romney’s ($433 million) campaigns spent. As Nick Confessore points out in the New York Times: “In the last presidential election, the Republican National Committee and the party’s two congressional campaign committees spent a total of $657 million.” That’s going to mean candidates will need even more money than before. Maybe for the nearly 30 candidates considering bids in 2016, their early bumper stickers should read, “Billionaire or Bust.”

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1981, President Ronald Reagan greeted the 52 former American hostages released by Iran at the White House. How long were those hostages held in Iran? Be the first to tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to Dogvis ‏(@davismread) for guessing Monday’s trivia: What was Clinton’s famous line about Monica Lewinsky from the 1998 news conference that later turned out to be a lie? The answer: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”.


  • Add one more Republican to the growing list of potential 2016 candidates. Former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich is contemplating throwing his hat in the race and will head to New Hampshire late next month to help gauge his national appeal.

  • Mitt Romney’s “sanctuary of defeat” — Utah, where he won the highest vote margin in 2012 — has become the potential birthplace for a third candidacy.

  • Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is heading to Iowa and New Hampshire for town hall meetings and Pennsylvania to keynote a progressive event.

  • Despite a failed Senate campaign, some staffers for former Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, are not out of the politics game. Politico reports that a few former staffers, including Braley’s political director, are busy doing political outreach in Iowa for former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

  • Republicans tried to woo voters and donors at two major conservative events in Iowa and California over the weekend. Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Nia-Malika Henderson of The Washington Post spoke with NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff to discuss why so many are trying to get an early start on the 2016 presidential race.



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Obama defends U.S. ties as he pays respects in Saudi Arabia

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a speech at Siri Fort Auditorium in New Delhi on Jan. 27, 2015. Obama is in the
         final day of a three day visit to India before stopping in Saudi Arabia to pay his respects to King Salman on his way back
         to Washington. Photo by Jim Bourg/Reuters

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a speech at Siri Fort Auditorium in New Delhi on Jan. 27, 2015. Obama is in the final day of a three day visit to India before stopping in Saudi Arabia to pay his respects to King Salman on his way back to Washington. Photo by Jim Bourg/Reuters

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — President Barack Obama defended the U.S. government’s willingness to cooperate closely with Saudi Arabia on national security despite deep concerns over human rights abuses, as he led an array of current and former American statesmen in paying respects Tuesday following the death of King Abdullah.

Saudi Arabia’s status as one of Washington’s most important Arab allies has at times appeared to trump U.S. concerns about the terrorist funding that flows from the kingdom and about human rights abuses. But Obama said he has found it most effective to apply steady pressure over human rights “even as we are getting business done that needs to get done.”

“Sometimes we need to balance our need to speak to them about human rights issues with immediate concerns we have in terms of counterterrorism or dealing with regional stability,” Obama said in a CNN interview that aired in advance of Obama’s arrival in Riyadh.

The president and first lady Michelle Obama stepped off their plane the Riyadh airport’s modern VIP terminal and onto a red carpet, where they were greeted by new King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud. A few dozen Saudi officials paraded past the Obamas after a military band played both countries’ national anthems.

Some of the all-male Saudi delegation shook hands with Mrs. Obama while others gave her a nod as they passed by. Mrs. Obama wore full-length clothing but no headscarf, as is typical for many Western women in Saudi Arabia, despite the strict dress code for Saudi women appearing in public.

During his four-hour stop in Saudi Arabia, Obama was to hold his first formal meeting with Salman, and then attend a dinner with other Saudi officials at the Erga Palace.

Obama suggested that during those conversations, he would not be raising U.S. concerns about Saudi Arabia’s flogging of blogger Raif Badawi, who was convicted of insulting Islam and sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes.

His first flogging took place in early January in front of dozens of people in the Red Sea city of Jiddah, though a second round has been postponed after a doctor said his wounds from the first lashes had not yet healed.

“On this visit, obviously a lot of this is just paying respects to King Abdullah, who in his own fashion presented some modest reform efforts within the kingdom,” Obama said.

Obama cut short the final day of his trip to India to make the four-hour stop in Riyadh. Further underscoring the key role Saudi Arabia has long played in U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East was the extensive delegation that joined Obama for the visit.

Secretary of State John Kerry was joining Obama in Riyadh, along with former Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and James Baker III, both of whom served Republican presidents. Former White House national security advisers Brent Scowcroft, Sandy Berger and Stephen Hadley also made the trip, as did Sen. John McCain, the Arizona republican who is a frequent critic of Obama’s foreign policy in the Middle East.

CIA Director John Brennan and Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command, which overseas military activity in the Middle East, were also taking part in Tuesday’s meetings with the Saudis.

“It meets the threshold of being bipartisan, high-level and people who worked very closely with Saudi Arabia over many years,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser.

Despite vast differences of opinions on many issues, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have worked in close coordination to address evolving security concerns in the tumultuous region. Most recently, Saudi Arabia became one of a handful of Arab nations that have joined the U.S. in launching airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

In his initial days on the throne, the 79-year-old Salman has given little indication that he plans to bring fundamental changes to his country’s policies. In a nationally televised address shortly after his half brother’s death, Salman vowed to hew to “the correct policies which Saudi Arabia has followed since its establishment.”

Obama acknowledged that the U.S. willingness to pursue close ties with Saudi Arabia despite human rights abuses often makes America’s allies uncomfortable.

“The trend-line is one that I will sustain throughout the rest of my presidency,” Obama said, “and that is to make the case to our friends and allies that if they want a society that is able to sustain itself in this day and age, then they’re going to have to change how they do business.”

Obama’s presidency has also been marked by occasional strains with the Saudi royal family. Abdullah, the 90-year-old monarch who died Friday, had pressed the U.S. to take more aggressive action to force Syrian President Bashar Assad from power. The royal family is also deeply skeptical of Obama’s diplomacy with rival Iran.

Salman is a veteran of the country’s top leadership and well-versed in diplomacy from nearly 50 years as the governor of the capital Riyadh. He is known as a mediator of disputes within the sprawling royal family who increasingly took on the duties of the king as the ailing Abdullah became more incapacitated.

Several regional leaders traveled to Saudi Arabia to attend Abdullah’s Muslim-only funeral Friday. Since then, a string of Western leaders and top dignitaries have announced plans to travel to the kingdom to pay their respects and meet the newly enthroned king.

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Fracking brine leak in North Dakota reaches Missouri River, prompts state Democrats to call for more regulation

A pipeline leak near Williston, North Dakota, that began January 6 has spilled 3 million gallons of brine — a byproduct of hydraulic fracturing. The leak has reached the Missouri River, the Associated Press reported on Friday.

It’s the largest saltwater spill in the state’s history. Brine is considered toxic; it is saltier than seawater and often contains other fracking fluids and petroleum.

The leak contaminated two creeks near Williston: Blacktail Creek and the Little Muddy River. The Little Muddy River empties into the Missouri River, one of the town’s sources of drinking water.

State health official Dave Glatt told the Associated Press that given the size and volume of the Missouri River, the contaminants were quickly diluted. But Karl Rockeman, the director of water quality at the Department of Health said “high readings” of contamination were found where the Little Muddy meets the Missouri, the Williston Herald reported.

The number of spills from North Dakota’s booming oil industry has risen steadily since 2006, the New York Times reported in November. A Times investigation found that 18.4 million gallons of oil and chemical substances have leaked into the North Dakotan air, water and soil between 2006 and October 2014. The Summit Midstream leak follows on the heels of a 50,000 gallon oil spill in the Yellowstone River near Glendive, Montana — the second oil spill in the river in four years.

Clean-up has already begun, but contaminated water trapped in ice may slow down the process. Oil and fracking spills have already proven difficult to clean up in North Dakota; a spill near the town of Alexander in 2006 is still being cleaned up the Associate Press reported.

The saltwater spill has prompted North Dakota Democrats to call for increased monitoring and regulation of the industry.

“It should not take a 3 million gallon spill to realize that this monitoring is needed,” Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, told the Associated Press. “If North Dakota does not get this under control, the feds are going to step in and do it for us. And nothing is going to slow the oil industry down like the federal government. We want to protect our environment first and foremost but this also will be good for industry in the long run.”

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