UPDATE 1-Kazakhstan expects decision on Tuesday on Tengiz oil field expansion

2016-07-04 16:59:08

(Adds context, background)ASTANA, July 4 Kazakhstan and a consortium of oil companies led by Chevron will announce on Tuesday their decision regarding a proposed plan to boost production at the Tengiz oil field, Kazakhstan's Energy Ministry said on Monday.The ministry's brief statement gave no details, but the market has been expecting the two sides to approve the expansion plan - one of the biggest oil projects in the world with costs estimated at $37 billion. Tengiz, in which Exxon Mobil and Lukoil also have stakes, will increase output to 36 million tonnes (720,000 barrels per day) a year by 2021 from 27 million tonnes currently, if the plan is approved. Daniyar Berlibayev, deputy chief executive of national oil company KazMunayGaz said in May that the expansion could be financed by borrowing. Tengizchevroil, the joint venture running Tengiz, sent final documents to banks for a $3 billion five- to seven-year loan agreement last week.Tengiz accounts for more than a third of total crude output in the Central Asian nation which is the biggest ex-Soviet oil producer after Russia. (Reporting by Raushan Nurshayeva; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; editing by Vladimir Soldatkin, Greg Mahlich)

Supreme Court firmly backs abortion rights, tosses Texas law

2016-06-28 14:45:02

WASHINGTON The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struck down a Texas abortion law imposing strict regulations on doctors and facilities in the strongest endorsement of abortion rights in America in more than two decades.The 5-3 ruling held that the Republican-backed 2013 Texas law placed an undue burden on women exercising their right under the U.S. Constitution to end a pregnancy, established in the court's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.The abortion providers who challenged the law said it was medically unnecessary and specifically intended to shut clinics. Texas officials said it was intended to protect women's health. The ruling means similar laws in other states are probably unconstitutional and could put in jeopardy other types of abortion restrictions enacted in various conservative states."The decision should send a loud signal to politicians that they can no longer hide behind sham rationales to shut down clinics and prevent a woman who has decided to end a pregnancy from getting the care she needs," said Jennifer Dalven, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union.President Barack Obama, whose administration backed the abortion providers in the court challenge, said in a statement he was "pleased to see the Supreme Court protect women's rights and health" and that restrictions like those in Texas "harm women's health and place an unconstitutional obstacle in the path of a woman's reproductive freedom."Conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the court's four liberal members in the ruling, with the remaining three conservatives dissenting. The court declared that both key provisions of the law - requiring abortion doctors to have difficult-to-obtain "admitting privileges" at a local hospital and requiring clinics to have costly hospital-grade facilities - violated a woman's right to an abortion.Writing for the court, liberal Justice Stephen Breyer said, "We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes.""Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a pre-viability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, and each violates the federal Constitution," Breyer added.Deferring to state legislatures over "questions of medical uncertainty is also inconsistent with this court's case law," Breyer added. The ruling in the case, Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, represented the most vigorous affirmation of abortion rights in the United States since a 1992 ruling affirmed a woman's right to have the procedure.On a warm sunny summer day, hundreds of people on both sides of the issue converged on the Supreme Court building, with abortion rights advocates dancing and celebrating after the ruling. "We're ecstatic. The reality is today women won," abortion rights activist Marcela Howell said.The law was passed by a Republican-led legislature and signed by a Republican governor in 2013. Ten states currently have admitting privileges requirements on the books while six have laws requiring hospital-grade facilities. Lower courts have blocked admitting privileges provisions in five states and halted facilities regulations in two states. "The decision erodes states’ lawmaking authority to safeguard the health and safety of women and subjects more innocent life to being lost. Texas' goal is to protect innocent life, while ensuring the highest health and safety standards for women," Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott said.Since the law was passed, the number of abortion clinics in Texas, the second-most-populous U.S. state with about 27 million people, had dropped from 41 to 19.The Supreme Court has appeals pending in two cases involving admitting privilege laws in Mississippi and Wisconsin on which it could act as soon as Tuesday.     The Texas law required abortion doctors to have "admitting privileges," a type of formal affiliation, at a hospital within 30 miles (48 km) of the clinic so they can treat patients needing surgery or other critical care.The law also required clinic buildings to possess costly, hospital-grade facilities. These regulations covered numerous building features such as corridor width, the swinging motion of doors, floor tiles, parking spaces, elevator size, ventilation, electrical wiring, plumbing, floor tiling and even the angle that water flows from drinking fountains.PUBLIC OPINION SPLITAmericans remain closely divided over whether abortion should be legal. In a Reuters/Ipsos online poll involving 6,769 U.S. adults conducted from June 3 to June 22, 47 percent of respondents said abortion generally should be legal and 42 percent said it generally should be illegal. Views on abortion in the United States have changed very little over the decades, according to historical polling data.The last time the justices decided a major abortion case was nine years ago when they ruled 5-4 to uphold a federal law banning a late-term abortion procedure.Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, which led the challenge to the Texas law, said, "Every day Whole Woman’s Health treats our patients with compassion, respect and dignity - and today the Supreme Court did the same. We’re thrilled that today justice was served and our clinics stay open."Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on Twitter called the ruling "a victory for women in Texas and across America.""This fight isn't over: The next president has to protect women's health. Women won't be 'punished' for exercising their basic rights," she said, a dig at presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who once suggested women who get illegal abortions should face "some sort of punishment." The presidential election is Nov. 8.Some U.S. states have pursued a variety of restrictions on abortion, including banning certain types of procedures, prohibiting it after a certain number of weeks of gestation, requiring parental permission for girls until a certain age, imposing waiting periods or mandatory counseling, and others."It's exceedingly unfortunate that the court has taken the ability to protect women’s health out of the hands of Texas citizens and their duly-elected representatives," Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, said in a statement.Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito dissented. The normally nine-justice court was one member short after the Feb. 13 death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who consistently opposed abortion in past rulings. (Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Adam DeRose, Jon Herskovitz and David Ingram; Editing by Will Dunham)

EPA says filtered Flint, Michigan drinking water safe to drink

2016-06-24 02:52:00

DETROIT Federal officials said on Thursday it is safe for anyone to drink properly filtered water in Flint, Michigan, where a public health crisis erupted after residents were exposed to dangerously high levels of lead.The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said in a statement that the most recent testing at nearly 50 locations in the city showed lead levels far below the levels considered dangerous.But the city's mayor said some homes in Flint cannot be fitted with filters, so bottled water is still needed.Flint, with a population of about 100,000, was under control of a state-appointed emergency manager in 2014 when it switched its water source from Detroit's municipal system to the Flint River to save money. The city switched back in October.The river water was more corrosive than the Detroit system's and caused more lead to leach from aging pipes. Lead can be toxic, and children are especially vulnerable. The crisis has prompted lawsuits by parents who say their children have shown dangerously high levels of lead in their blood. The EPA, which worked in coordination with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the testing, said properly filtered water is safe even for pregnant and nursing women, and children, groups more susceptible to the effects of lead poisoning."Residents can be confident that they can use filtered water and protect their developing fetus or young child from lead," U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Dr. Nicole Lurie said in a statement. Lurie has led federal support efforts for the Flint crisis.The EPA said the filters distributed by the state of Michigan effectively remove lead or reduce it to levels well below the level of 15 parts per billion at which federal officials say action is needed. In the testing, nearly all filtered water tested below 1 part per billion. In January, water samples tested above 150 parts per billion. The state began offering free water filters in Flint in January."This good news shows the progress we are making with overall water quality improving in Flint," Michigan Governor Rick Snyder said in a statement. Snyder has been criticized for the state's poor handling of the crisis.Flint Mayor Karen Weaver noted that some homes have faucets where the filters do not fit. "This is not the ultimate solution," she said in a statement. "We still need new infrastructure, replacing the lead-tainted pipes in the city remains my top priority." (Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by David Gregorio)

Wildfires in California, New Mexico trigger hundreds of evacuations

2016-06-16 22:27:11

LOS ANGELES Hundreds of people have evacuated to escape a wildfire in coastal Southern California and a larger blaze in rural New Mexico as hot weather feeds the flames, raising health concerns in other regions, officials said on Thursday.Santa Barbara Sheriff Bill Brown told a news conference his deputies had asked occupants of 400 homes and businesses to evacuate structures in areas threatened by flames from the California fire. Campers, and horses on ranches have also been forced out, officials said.The blaze, which ignited on Wednesday in a wilderness area northwest of Santa Barbara, has consumed chaparral and tall grass in the Los Padres National Forest, blackening some 1,200 acres (490 hectares), according to tracking website InciWeb.gov.About 500 firefighters were trying to hold it from exploding out of control as airplane tankers and helicopters dropped water, officials said."There isn't a lot of marine layer (ocean humidity) so not great conditions for firefighting," Diane Black, a joint incident command manager, said in a phone interview. Winds drove the so-called Sherpa Fire, named after a ranch near where it started, toward the Pacific coast, leading authorities to evacuate two state beaches and some ranch land, according to information from InciWeb.gov and the Santa Barbara County website.The blaze also approached the 101 Freeway overnight, forcing authorities to close it until Thursday morning.In New Mexico, the so-called Dog Head Fire which broke out on Wednesday about 6 miles (10 km) northwest of the town of Tajique has forced evacuations and grown to more than 12,000 acres (4,900 hectares). It has burned through timber in central New Mexico, pushing heavy smoke toward cities more than 100 miles (160 km) away as flames spread through a largely unpopulated area, fire information officer Peter D'Aquanni said in a phone interview.Torrance County Sheriff Heath White said his office was evacuating about 200 people. D'Aquanni said that, as more than 600 firefighters tackle the blaze, winds could shift the flames to the east. "There's not many structures in front of that direction if it goes where we think it's going," he said.The National Weather Service has issued heat advisories for Missouri and southwest Iowa, with temperatures in the mid-90s Fahrenheit (35 Celsius), climatologist Bryan Peake said in a phone interview. (Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by James Dalgleish)

FDA seeks suspension of 4,402 illegal prescription drug websites

2016-06-09 21:22:27

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Thursday it, along with international authorities, has formally sought to suspend 4,402 websites that illegally sell potentially dangerous, counterfeit or unapproved prescription drugs to U.S. consumers.The move is part of a global effort being led by the INTERPOL, the world's largest police organization, to identify the makers and distributors of illegal prescription drugs.The FDA said its Office of Criminal Investigations, Office of Regulatory Affairs, and Center for Drug Evaluation and Research were part of the enforcement action, which ran from May 31 to June 7. (1.usa.gov/1UDxltm)The FDA and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspected international mail facilities (IMFs), and then sent formal complaints to domain registrars requesting the suspension of the 4,402 websites, the U.S. health regulator said. In addition, the FDA said it has also issued warning letters to operators of 53 websites that illegally sell unapproved and misbranded prescription drug products to U.S. consumers.The FDA said it and other federal agencies screened and seized illegal drug products received through IMFs in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. These screenings resulted in the detention of 797 parcels which, if found in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, will be refused entry into the country and destroyed, the FDA added. Preliminary findings from these screening showed U.S. consumers had purchased certain unapproved drug products from abroad to treat depression, narcolepsy, high cholesterol, glaucoma, and asthma, among other conditions. (Reporting by Natalie Grover in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D'Souza)

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