A German retiree facing sky-high energy bills is turning to a wood-burning stove. The owner of a dry cleaning business in Spain adjusted her employees’ work shifts to cut electric bills and installed solar panels. A mayor in France said he ordered a hiring freeze because rising electrical bills threaten a financial “catastrophe.”
Europeans have long paid some of the world’s highest prices for energy, but no one can remember a winter like this one. Lives and livelihoods across the continent are being upended by a series of factors, including pandemic-induced supply shortages and now geopolitical tensions that are driving some energy prices up fivefold.
Matters could get worse if tensions between Russia and Ukraine escalate further, potentially interrupting the flow of gas. Russia provides more than a third of Europe’s natural gas, which heats homes, generates electricity and powers factories. Even as politicians and leaders in capitals across Europe are freezing prices, slashing taxes on energy and issuing checks to households hardest hit by the price increases, concerns are growing about what the persistently high prices could mean for people’s jobs and their ability to pay their bills.
“People are very upset and very distressed,” said Stefanie Siegert, who counsels consumers in the eastern German state of Saxony who find themselves struggling to pay their gas and power bills.
rocked France in 2018. But Ms. Siegert, whose agency counseled more than 300 customers in January — three times its monthly average — said she wouldn’t be surprised if the anger currently directed at the prospect of a vaccine mandate shifted its sights to energy prices.
“When you talk with people, you feel their anger,” she said. “It is very depressing.”
price cap on energy bills was recently raised 54 percent, increasing annual charges to 1,971 pounds. That increase will affect 22 million households beginning in April, contributing to broadening worries in Britain about the rising cost of living.
Similar concerns can be found throughout the continent.
Athina Sirogianni, 46, a freelance translator in Athens, said she remembered fondly the day about a decade ago when her building switched from oil to natural gas. The move cut her utility bill in half.
Nyrstar, the world’s second-largest zinc processor, produces nearly 500 tons of the metal each day at a sprawling factory in Auby, in northern France, a complex that consumes as much energy as the French city of Lyon.
When its electrical rates surged from €35 to €50 per megawatt-hour to €400 last December, it made no sense to keep the factory running, said Xavier Constant, Nyrstar France’s general manager. At that rate, he said, “the more we produce the more we lose,” and so the plant shut down last month for three weeks.
Nyrstar temporarily halved production at its other European plants in October when the energy crisis set in, prompting a brief spike in the global price of zinc.
Last fall, fertilizer plants in Britain were forced to close because of gas prices. And several German companies that produce glass, steel and fertilizer have also scaled back production in recent months.
To ease the burden of the high prices, the government in Berlin reduced by half an energy surcharge on bills aimed at funding the country’s transition to renewable sources of power, and plans to phase it out by the end of next year.
on Twitter. He said the facility’s electricity prices had increased 100 percent.
He and other hospital directors have appealed to the government in Warsaw to intervene, saying the recent cuts to taxes on energy and gasoline were not enough.
In Germany, there is rising tension in municipally owned utilities that must accept customers, like Mr. Backhaus in Saxony, whose relatively low-cost contracts have been dropped by private energy companies because the companies can’t pay ballooning energy rates.
The municipal utilities are forced to increase the rates for these new customers, often almost astronomically high, to cover the cost of buying extra energy on the spot market at record prices. That leads to tensions in communities, and can threaten municipal finances.
“Anyone who wants to will be supplied with energy by the municipal utilities,” said Markus Lewe, president of the German Association of Cities and Towns. “But it must not lead to the municipal utilities and their loyal customers being asked to pay for questionable business models of other providers and having to answer for their shortsighted financing.”
He called on the federal government to intervene, to protect cities from the price instability.
In France, local leaders are also looking to the federal government to help ease the sting of skyrocketing energy bills.
Boris Ravignon, the mayor of Charleville-Mézières, said his city is facing “a catastrophe” after its January energy bill more than tripled, wiping out the region’s budget surplus for infrastructure and public services in a single month. The city is trying to cut costs by switching streetlights to LED bulbs, which use less electricity, and has proposed a new hydroelectric project.
The mayor has already frozen planned hirings and said the city may have no choice but to raise the cost of public services like water, transportation, fees to use sports halls like the city’s public pool, and cultural events.
“We really want to protect citizens from these increases,” Mr. Ravignon said. “But when prices reach such crazy heights, it’s impossible.”
Reporting contributed by Adèle Cordonnier in France, Raphael Minder in Spain and Niki Kitsantonis in Greece.
Under the crush of thousands of lawsuits, Purdue filed for bankruptcy restructuring in September 2019, which automatically put a hold on all the claims against it.
Nearly two years later, Judge Robert Drain, the bankruptcy court judge in White Plains, N.Y., confirmed a plan that had been approved by a majority of creditors who voted. Purdue would be formally dissolved and would re-emerge as a new company called Knoa Pharma that would still produce OxyContin but also other drugs. The new company’s profits would go to states and communities to fund opioid treatment and prevention efforts.
The Sacklers would renounce their ownership, eventually sell their foreign pharmaceutical companies as well, and contribute $4.5 billion of their fortune to the state and local opioid abatement funds.
In exchange, all lawsuits against Purdue would be extinguished, a benefit typical of bankruptcy. What made the settlement so contentious was the Sacklers’ insistence on being released from all Purdue-related opioid claims, although they had not personally filed for bankruptcy.
In court, lawyers said there are more than 800 lawsuits that name the Sacklers.
After Judge Drain approved the plan, it was immediately appealed by the United States Trustee, a branch of the Justice Department that monitors bankruptcy cases; eight states, including Maryland, Washington and Connecticut; the District of Columbia; and about 2,000 individuals. The appeal was filed in federal district court.
Lawyers challenging the plan argued that the Sacklers had essentially gamed the bankruptcy system. Moreover, they argued, Judge Drain lacked the authority to shut off a state’s power to pursue the Sacklers under its own civil consumer protection laws.
“Today’s ruling is a critical development that restores the state’s ability to protect the safety of Marylanders by holding fully accountable those who created or contributed to the opioid crisis, particularly members of the Sackler family,” said Brian E. Frosh, the Maryland attorney general.
Critics of the state regulations warned that tech companies weren’t the only ones that would have to maneuver through the patchwork of rules. “For consumers, this means confusion,” said Daniel Castro, a vice president of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a think tank sponsored by tech companies.
Apple and Google declined to comment. Jodi Seth, a spokeswoman for Amazon, pointed to an April blog post from the company’s policy executive Brian Huseman, who said the state laws risked creating a hodgepodge of regulations that wouldn’t serve users well.
Will Castleberry, Facebook’s vice president of state and local public policy, said that instead, the social network largely backed more federal legislation. “While we support state efforts to address specific challenges,” he said in a statement, “there are some issues, like privacy, where it’s time for updated federal rules for the internet — and those need to come from Congress.”
To fight against the splintering rules, the tech companies have gone on the offensive. While data on state lobbying is inconsistent and often underreported, Google, Amazon and Facebook funneled a combined $5 million into those efforts in 2019, according to the National Institute on Money in Politics, a nonprofit. The companies also increased their lobbying ranks to dozens in state legislatures compared with skeletal forces five years ago.
Let Us Help You Protect Your Digital Life
Some of the companies have also recently sent top engineers to kill state proposals. In February, Apple’s chief privacy engineer, Erik Neuenschwander, testified in a North Dakota Senate hearing to oppose a bill that would let app developers use their own payment systems and bypass Apple’s App Store rules. The bill died a week later in a 36-to-11 vote.
Even so, states have barreled forward.
Maryland lawmakers in February overrode their governor’s veto of a new tax on sites like Facebook and Google. The tax, the first aimed at the business of behavioral advertising, takes a cut of the money that the companies make from the sale of ads shown in Maryland. One analysis projected that it would raise up to $250 million in its first year, a fraction of Facebook and Google’s combined $267 billion in annual revenue, but a real threat if replicated across states.
Trade groups for Google, Amazon and Facebook tried to stop the tax. They hired a well-connected political consultant to argue that it would hurt small businesses. When that failed, the trade groups sued to block it. The litigation is pending.
Elon Musk has been a big cryptocurrency booster of late, even directing Tesla to buy $1.5 billion in Bitcoin for its corporate treasury earlier this year. On Thursday, he abruptly reversed course, tweeting that Tesla would stop accepting Bitcoin as payment for cars, citing environmental reasons.
“We are concerned about rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for Bitcoin mining and transactions, especially coal, which has the worst emissions of any fuel,” he said.
Bitcoin’s price promptly plunged by more than 10 percent, and Tesla’s shares dropped more than 4 percent, but recovered when trading began on Thursday.
billion-dollar Bitcoin buy, pushing the price up by more than 10 percent. Bitcoin seems remarkably sensitive to the billionaire’s tweets. “If one person can dramatically alter spending power, the ‘stable store of value’ criteria of a currency is not met,” Paul Donovan of UBS wrote in a note to clients on Thursday.
Mining Bitcoin is energy-intensive, and the more it is worth, the more power it takes a network of computers to create the tokens, by design. Bitcoin’s climate problem is hardly a secret. The DealBook newsletter asks: What gives?
Tesla only started accepting Bitcoin for car purchases in the United States in March. Just over two weeks ago, Zach Kirkhorn, Tesla’s chief financial officer, told investors that “it is our intent to hold what we have long term and continue to accumulate Bitcoin from transactions from our customers as they purchase vehicles.” He described the rationale for buying and accepting Bitcoin as “Elon and I were looking for a place to store cash that wasn’t being immediately used, trying to get some level of return.”
An entry-level Tesla is worth about one Bitcoin, so the company’s $1.5 billion Bitcoin purchase in February far surpasses the amount of crypto it would collect from car sales for a very long time. That raises questions about the vetting and approval process for that investment, which may worry E.S.G. investors, who otherwise look favorably at an electric vehicle company. Did Mr. Musk not know about Bitcoin’s environmental impact until now? Who advised him on it? Did climate factor into the board’s approval process?
SpaceX’s rockets are massive carbon emitters. The Boring Company, his tunnel drilling endeavor, has also faced criticism about its environmental impact.
Mr. Musk’s statement said that “Tesla will not be selling any Bitcoin and we intend to use it for transactions as soon as mining transitions to more sustainable energy.” We’ll see whether it made any recent trades when it reports second-quarter results in July. Given the impact that Mr. Musk’s tweet had on Bitcoin’s price, any action just before or after will be scrutinized.
The return policy for cars bought with Bitcoin worked in Tesla’s favor, stipulating that buyers get back Bitcoin if it’s worth less than the equivalent dollar value at purchase but get back dollars if Bitcoin is worth more. That raises many issues, including accounting risks and worries about warranties and other consumer protection laws.
Mr. Musk can be an unreliable narrator. On Tuesday, he asked his followers on Twitter if Tesla should accept Dogecoin, the jokey cryptocurrency. (Most said yes.) On Sunday, he announced that SpaceX had taken Dogecoin as payment for shuttling a satellite to the moon. And as host of “Saturday Night Live,” he said that cryptocurrency was both “the future of currency” and “a hustle.”
“It’s up to the consumer to advocate for themselves,” Ms. Brombach, the author of the towing report, said. Most states have consumer protection offices that can be a good first stop with a complaint.
It helps to be aware of the possibility of a tow when parking. People assume that a lot near a store or other business is public, Mr. Friedman said, but it’s usually private property — so act accordingly. “It’s a mind-set consumers have to have,” he said.
Scrutinize any signs on the lot that provide information about parking and any restrictions, he advised, and resist the urge to park and run errands at additional locations if the spot is dedicated to a specific store. If you have any doubt, find another spot. It may help to take a picture of your car, noting the time and any relevant signs with your phone, in case it can be used to challenge a towing fee, he said.
Here are some questions and answers about towing fees:
What should I do if my car is towed?
If a phone number is posted in the parking lot, call it. Otherwise, call the nonemergency number of the local police department. In many places, local rules require towing companies to report a vehicle to the police before hauling it away.
There’s typically little you can do to get back your car until you pay the fee. “It’s a highly unusual transaction from the get-go,” Mr. Friedman said, in that you have to pay the money and challenge the fee afterward.
Ask for an itemized bill when you retrieve your car. “Fees can stack up,” Ms. Brombach said. You may be charged a “release” fee, and an “after hours” fee, and you’ll want to be sure you weren’t overcharged.
If you can prove that your car was illegally towed, you are eligible for reimbursement in 27 states, the report notes. In 17 of those states, you are entitled to collect damages as well as reimbursement.
Peloton is recalling its Tread+ and Tread treadmills, the at-home fitness company said on Wednesday, less than a month after it fought the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission as it warned that dozens of injuries and one death of a child had been linked to the machines.
The commission, which issued an “urgent warning” for the machines in April, urged people who own the treadmills to immediately stop using them. Peloton is offering a full refund for the $4,295 machine with a 32-inch touch screen that allows runners to work out with the aid of instructors.
John Foley, the chief executive of Peloton, said in a statement Wednesday that the company had “made a mistake” by fighting the agency’s request to recall the treadmills, and apologized for not engaging “more productively with them from the outset.”
“The decision to recall both products was the right thing to do for Peloton’s members and their families,” he said.
more than quadrupled to more than $40 billion.
The shares have fallen from their highs as concerns about the safety of Peloton’s treadmills mounted. On Wednesday, the stock slid as much as 15 percent following news of the recall.
In October, the company recalled about 27,000 of its bikes sold between July 2013 and May 2016 after it received reports of broken pedals causing injuries.
Richard Cordray, a close ally of Senator Elizabeth Warren who served as the first director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau during the Obama years, has been selected as the new head of federal student aid in the Biden administration, a post that will put him at the center of the swirling debate over forgiving student debt.
The issue is a tricky one for President Biden. Though he has endorsed canceling up to $10,000 per borrower through legislation, Mr. Biden has been pressured by some Democrats to forgive much more, and to sign an executive order making it happen if Congress fails to act.
But with his new position within the federal Education Department, the primary lender for higher education, Mr. Cordray might be able to relieve the president of that burden by canceling student debt administratively. Democratic leaders are pushing for up to $50,000 in debt relief.
Mr. Cordray is a former Ohio attorney general who worked alongside Ms. Warren on financial issues before her election to the Senate. He headed the consumer protection bureau from 2012 to 2017, leaving in the first year of the Trump administration to make a failed bid for governor of Ohio.
a five-time “Jeopardy!” champion, has also been a vocal critic of for-profit colleges. “I hate how these hollowed-out businesses and subpar colleges are cheating consumers, employees and whole communities,” he wrote in a guest essay in The Plain Dealer, Ohio’s largest newspaper.
the agency sued Navient, one of the Education Department’s largest student loan servicers, for errors and omissions that Mr. Cordray said improperly added billions of dollars to borrowers’ tabs.
The lawsuit is ongoing, and six state attorneys general have filed similar cases. The lawsuits describe routine mistakes and lapses in oversight that over time added up to systematic failures, eerily similar to the mortgage servicing industry’s bungling of borrower accounts and property foreclosures during the 2008 recession.
extensive errors and obstacles in the department’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which is intended to forgive the debts of teachers, military members, nonprofit workers and others in public-service careers.
The agency is also grappling with claims from hundreds of thousands of borrowers seeking relief through a program intended to eliminate the debts of people who were defrauded by schools that broke consumer protection laws.
The idea was simple: Why throw away used rapid antigen test kits for the coronavirus when they could be used again and again?
All it took was washing the cotton swabs used to take nasal samples, repackaging them as if they were new and reusing them on other people.
The fraud unraveled this week when five laboratory workers were arrested in the Indonesian city of Medan and accused of reusing nasal swabs in administering as many as 20,000 tests. They face up to six years in prison for violating consumer protection, medical waste and contagious disease laws.
The authorities said they were investigating whether any people were infected with the coronavirus as a result of the contaminated tests given at an airport testing site operated by Kimia Farma, a giant state-owned company.
The five workers were believed to have pocketed about $2,000 a day since mid-December by charging people for the tainted tests. The lab employees administered legitimate tests using sterile cotton swabs to about 100 people a day and reused swabs for tests on about 150 others, which would amount to thousands of tests over the period.
After the police received tips about the operation, an undercover officer went to the airport lab for a test and submitted to a nasal swab. He received a false positive result, said Hadi Wahyudi, a spokesman for the North Sumatra police.
according to a New York Times database. Health experts have estimated that the totals are actually many times higher because of limited testing.
The country has recovered somewhat from a surge that peaked in late January but is still averaging more than 5,000 new cases a day. A nationwide vaccination campaign is underway and more than 19 million doses have been administered.
STOREY COUNTY, Nev. — You can’t ride the wild mustangs at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center in Nevada, but you’re nearly guaranteed to see bands of them loping over sagebrush in a scene that feels straight out of the 1800s.
At least until the dust clears and Tesla’s 5.3-million-square-foot “Gigafactory” comes into focus.
Welcome to the Silver State, where Elon Musk, a cryptocurrency tycoon and a brothel owner are using a symbol of Americana as a social media recruiting tool.
The water cooler used to be the spot in the office to talk shop. Then came on-site cafes, fitness and yoga studios, rooftop gardens, fire pits and rock-climbing walls. “The overarching trend of the last five years has been the hotelification of the office,” said Lenny Beaudoin, an executive managing director at CBRE.
For employers, the newest amenities to wow workers are ideological, with environmental commitments topping the list, said Jason H. Somers, the president of Crest Real Estate, a Southern California real estate consultancy.
progress by corporate giants, but most efforts remain so opaque that it’s tough to spot greenwashing, the use of sustainability efforts to appear more attractive.
Embracing high environmental standards can be challenging and expensive. Some companies pay others to reduce emissions. Others plant trees, which can take years to grow and rely heavily on water and care.
Tesla used a $1.3 billion state tax break to build its $5 billion factory, tapping into a local work force still reeling from the Great Recession and ushering in a wave of Silicon Valley heavies. Switch, a technology infrastructure company, set up three data centers, then Google gobbled up 1,200 acres. Blockchains bought 67,000 acres for $170 million in 2018, becoming the park’s biggest tenant.
hoped to transform the expanse into an experimental city run by his encrypted digital systems. He pledged to build 15,000 homes, turning it into a huge innovation zone, with his company overseeing everything from schools to courts, law and water.
“I want this to become the greatest social experiment in the history of the world,” he said. “It’s going to be a cross between Disneyland and the chocolate factory from Willy Wonka.”
He’ll have to rethink the scope: In March, the county voted against the secession plan.
Mr. Berns says he plans to develop around 25,000 of his 67,000 acres, but for now, it will remain an outpost for wild horses.
Nevada is home to more than half of the country’s 95,000 wild horses and burros, descendants of animals brought to the continent by Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s. Managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management to the tune of about $100 million annually, wild horses live on protected and private land crisscrossed by freeways.
Wild Horse Connection, an advocacy group. “Horses in traffic, on the wrong side of fencing, vehicular, train accidents, sick or ill horses.”
Rescues triple once mares start foaling, said Ms. Vance, whose annual budget is about $100,000, including small donations from the office park and tenants. She says further expansion depletes open spaces and decreases grazing areas.
“Horses have migration patterns, and when a development comes in, it cuts that off and there’s more interactions with people,” she said.
One solution is humane horse fertility so the animals, which can spend up to 16 hours a day eating, don’t overpopulate and overgraze.
American Wild Horse Campaign, has worked with the office park since 2012, spending more than $200,000 on fertility control, water and feeding in the last three years.
“Development displaces wildlife,” she said. Water stations help, she said, as does an underground crossing built by Switch.
But the horses will not offset the park’s overall carbon footprint, said Simon Fischweicher, the North American head of corporations and supply chains at CDP. Tenants like Tesla, whose lithium-ion batteries are costly to mine and nearly impossible to recycle, require a lot of energy.
Switch is installing its own solar panels, and there are two green fuel plants on site, but distribution and data centers use large amounts of water for heating and cooling, and “supply chain emissions are on average 11.4 times higher than operational emissions,” Mr. Fischweicher said.
Others question the need to use the horses as a lure. Mr. Thompson says most of the roughly 25,000 workers at the office park are blue-collar Nevadans living within an hour commute. They’re here for jobs, not because of horses.
Growth for the industrial park means luring workers from out of state, expanding limited housing nearby and developing more land — all of which jeopardize the wildlife incentive.
“Quality of food, retail choices and housing are going to shape those decisions more than having wild horses nearby,” Mr. Beaudoin of CBRE said. “I would never bet against someone like Elon Musk, but there are other factors to attract workers.”
Because of the pandemic, most of the auditors drew their conclusions from documents and video tours, during which Emergent workers controlled the camera angles, one former company official said.
Johnson & Johnson’s auditors said monitoring reports for bacteria or other contaminants were filed four to six months late. AstraZeneca’s said that Emergent repeatedly loosened monitoring criteria so it appeared to meet them, resorting to measures like “historical averages.” But even then it failed the tests, the report said.
In another audit, BARDA officials documented similar concerns, classifying some of them, including the risks of microbiological contamination, as “critical.” That designation is reserved for the most serious problems that pose an immediate and significant risk.
Emergent’s own internal audit in July also said the flow of workers and materials through the plant was not adequately controlled “to prevent mix-ups or contamination.”
The reports echoed quality-control shortcomings documented in an April inspection by the F.D.A., reported earlier by The Associated Press, that concluded the facility was “not ready for commercial operations.”
Multiple audits underscore how poorly the company was prepared for the huge workload it accepted.
The Covid-19 projects required significantly more testing to ensure materials remained stable, but Emergent had just one employee coordinating it all, the BARDA audit found. Emergent acknowledged at the time that its testing system was “not ideal” and pledged to train at least one more Emergent worker and hire a third. BARDA did not respond to requests for comment on its audit or any of the others, beyond saying that it had “worked with Emergent to resolve the issues” raised during the F.D.A. inspection.
Another internal investigation in August found that Emergent approved four raw materials used to produce AstraZeneca’s vaccine without first fully testing them. That type of shortcut, called a conditional release of material, occurred on average twice a week in October, internal logs show. The measure was deemed necessary because the company was working with shortened production times, testing backlogs and the needs of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s crash vaccine development program. And while a manager “knowingly deviated” from standards, the report said, the batches of vaccine would be not released without quality and safety tests.