For many people in government and the auto industry, the main concern is whether there will be enough lithium to meet soaring demand for electric vehicles.

The Inflation Reduction Act, which President Biden signed in August, has raised the stakes for the auto industry. To qualify for several incentives and subsidies in the law, which go to car buyers and automakers and are worth a total of $10,000 or more per electric vehicle, battery makers must use raw materials from North America or a country with which the United States has a trade agreement.

rising fast.

California and other states move to ban internal combustion engines. “It’s going to take everything we can do and our competitors can do over the next five years to keep up,” Mr. Norris said.

One of the first things that Sayona had to do when it took over the La Corne mine was pump out water that had filled the pit, exposing terraced walls of dark and pale stone from previous excavations. Lighter rock contains lithium.

After being blasted loose and crushed, the rock is processed in several stages to remove waste material. A short drive from the mine, inside a large building with walls of corrugated blue metal, a laser scanner uses jets of compressed air to separate light-colored lithium ore. The ore is then refined in vats filled with detergent and water, where the lithium floats to the surface and is skimmed away.

The end product looks like fine white sand but it is still only about 6 percent lithium. The rest includes aluminum, silicon and other substances. The material is sent to refineries, most of them in China, to be further purified.

Yves Desrosiers, an engineer and a senior adviser at Sayona, began working at the La Corne mine in 2012. During a tour, he expressed satisfaction at what he said were improvements made by Sayona and Piedmont. Those include better control of dust, and a plan to restore the site once the lithium runs out in a few decades.

“The productivity will be a lot better because we are correcting everything,” Mr. Desrosiers said. In a few years, the company plans to upgrade the facility to produce lithium carbonate, which contains a much higher concentration of lithium than the raw metal extracted from the ground.

The operation will get its electricity from Quebec’s abundant hydropower plants, and will use only recycled water in the separation process, Mr. Desrosiers said. Still, environmental activists are watching the project warily.

Mining is a pillar of the Quebec economy, and the area around La Corne is populated with people whose livelihoods depend on extraction of iron, nickel, copper, zinc and other metals. There is an active gold mine near the largest city in the area, Val-d’Or, or Valley of Gold.

Mining “is our life,” said Sébastien D’Astous, a metallurgist turned politician who is the mayor of Amos, a small city north of La Corne. “Everybody knows, or has in the near family, people who work in mining or for contractors.”

Most people support the lithium mine, but a significant minority oppose it, Mr. D’Astous said. Opponents fear that another lithium mine being developed by Sayona in nearby La Motte, Quebec, could contaminate an underground river.

Rodrigue Turgeon, a local lawyer and program co-leader for MiningWatch Canada, a watchdog group, has pushed to make sure the Sayona mines undergo rigorous environmental reviews. Long Point First Nation, an Indigenous group that says the mines are on its ancestral territory, wants to conduct its own environmental impact study.

Sébastien Lemire, who represents the region around La Corne in the Canadian Parliament, said he wanted to make sure that the wealth created by lithium mining flowed to the people of Quebec rather than to outside investors.

Mr. Lemire praised activists for being “vigilant” about environmental standards, but he favors the mine and drives an electric car, a Chevrolet Bolt.

“If we don’t do it,” he said at a cafe in La Corne, “we’re missing the opportunity of the electrification of transport.”

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West Virginia Legislature Passes Abortion Ban With Few Exceptions

By Associated Press
September 14, 2022

The legislation would allow victims of rape and incest to obtain abortions at up to eight weeks of pregnancy, if they report to law enforcement first.

West Virginia’s Legislature passed a sweeping abortion ban with few exceptions Tuesday, approving a bill that several members of the Republican supermajority said they hope will make it impossible for the state’s only abortion clinic to continue to offer the procedure.

“It is going to shut down that abortion clinic, of that I feel certain,” Republican Sen. Robert Karnes said on the Senate floor, amid shouts from protesters standing outside the chamber doors. “I believe it’s going to save a lot of babies.”

Under the legislation, rape and incest victims would be able to obtain abortions at up to eight weeks of pregnancy, but only if they report to law enforcement first. Such victims who are minors would have until 14 weeks to terminate a pregnancy and must report to either law enforcement or a physician.

Rape and incest victims would have to report the assault within 48 hours of getting an abortion, and a patient must present a copy of a police report or notarized letter to a physician before the procedure can be performed.

Abortions also would be allowed in cases of medical emergencies.

West Virginia joins the ranks of states moving to ban abortion in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year to end the constitutional right to privacy that protected abortion rights nationwide. That left it to states to decide whether abortion should remain legal, which in turn has ignited intense state-level debates, especially in states controlled by Republicans, about when to impose the ban, whether to carve out exceptions in cases involving rape, incest or the health of the woman giving birth, and how those exceptions should be implemented.

The West Virginia bill now heads to the desk of Republican Gov. Jim Justice, who has signed several anti-abortion bills into law since taking office in 2017. Lawmakers resumed debate on the bill Tuesday after failing to come to an agreement in late July, giving up the chance for the state to become the first to approve new legislation restricting access to abortions since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June removing its protected status as a constitutional right.

Both the Senate and the House of Delegates speedily approved the bill, after several hours of debate. Dozens of protesters wearing pink shirts reading “bans off our bodies” and holding signs reading “abortion is healthcare” staged a rally in the Capitol rotunda while lawmakers were in session.

Some of the group sat in the gallery as legislators discussed the bills, with some shouting down to legislators in frustration as they spoke in support of the bill. Legislative leadership asked that the onlookers remain silent as lawmakers conducted business. At one point, at least one protester was escorted out of the building by police. 

Lawmakers inserted several provisions they said were specifically targeted at the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia, which was the state’s first abortion clinic when it opened in 1976 following the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade case. It has existed as the state’s sole abortion clinic for years, making it the ever-increasing target of anti-abortion lawmakers and protesters.

The bill states that surgical abortions can only be performed at a state-licensed hospital by a physician with hospital privileges. Anybody else who performs an abortion, including nurse practitioners and other medical professionals, could face three to 10 years in prison. A physician who performs an illegal abortion could lose their medical license.

Pregnant people who obtain illegal abortions will not face any form of prosecution under the bill, however.

Kaylen Barker, spokesperson for the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia, said the clinic will not be shutting down, even if the staff is no longer able to provide abortions. Like many clinics that perform abortions, the facility did not offer the procedure daily.

Most days are dedicated to services like gender-affirming hormone therapy, HIV prevention and treatment and routine gynecological care — cervical exams, cancer screenings — mostly for low-income patients on Medicaid with nowhere else to go.

Democratic Sen. Owens Brown, West Virginia’s only Black senator, spoke against the bill before it passed the Senate. He said when he looks around at his fellow lawmakers, he sees a body that is overwhelmingly comprised of white, middle-aged to elderly men who are middle-class or above.

Brown compared groups of men passing legislation that overwhelmingly impacts women to laws that were passed by white lawmakers when slavery was legal in the U.S. He said “all laws are not good laws made by men.”

“That’s somewhat irrational in many ways to be able to apply a law that will never apply to you,” he said to his fellow lawmakers. “It’s easy for you to sit there and do that because you will never have to face the consequences of your actions.”

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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Some States Could Tax Biden’s Student Loan Debt Relief

Some states tax forgiven debt as income, which means borrowers who are still paying down student loans could owe taxes on money taken off their bill.

President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan could lift crushing debt burdens from millions of borrowers, but the tax man may demand a cut of the relief in some states.

That’s because some states tax forgiven debt as income, which means borrowers who are still paying down student loans could owe taxes on as much as $10,000 or even $20,000 that was taken off their bill. In Mississippi, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Arkansas and North Carolina, forgiven student loans will be subject to state income taxes unless they change their laws to conform with a federal tax exemption for student loans, according to a tally by the Tax Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

That dismays Cathy Newman, a Louisiana State University graduate who just took a job teaching freshman biology at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. She figures she could end up owing a few hundred dollars of money that she could have kept had she stayed in Louisiana.

Newman said she can come up with the cash because she has a good job, but she knows of a lot of other borrowers who will still be stuck in difficult financial positions even with their loans forgiven.

“If they stay in the state, they could end up with a pretty hefty tax burden if things don’t change,” Newman said. “I won’t be happy if I have to do it. I can do it. But a lot of people can’t.”

More than 40 million Americans could see their student loan debt cut or eliminated under the forgiveness plan President Biden announced late last month. The president is erasing $10,000 in federal student loan debt for individuals with incomes below $125,000 a year, or households that earn less than $250,000. He’s canceling an additional $10,000 for those who also used federal Pell Grants to pay for college. But it only applies to those whose loans were paid out before July 1, which leaves out current high school seniors and students who will follow them.

Although having $10,000 or $20,000 in loan payments eliminated will be a boon over the long term to borrowers who qualify, those in the affected states might be required to declare that as income. Depending on a state’s tax rates, the taxpayer’s other income and the deductions and exemptions they’re able to claim, that could add up to several hundred extra tax dollars that they’ll owe.

Spokespeople for tax agencies in several states — including Virginia, Idaho, New York, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky — told The Associated Press that their states definitely won’t tax student loans forgiven under President Biden’s program. Revenue officials in a few other states said they needed to do more research to know.

Newman, 38, went into debt to pay for graduate school. She had already set herself up for relief under the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, though that requires five more years of teaching on top of the five she already taught at the University of Louisiana Monroe. President Biden’s program would cut $10,000 off her debt load when it takes effect, but under existing Mississippi tax law, the relief won’t come free.

“It’s not a huge burden for me, but it could be for a lot of other people, which is what I’m worried about, especially if it’s unexpected, and I think a lot of people don’t realize that,” Newman said.

Any relief in states that would tax the forgiven debt would have to come from their Legislatures. Leaders of the Minnesota Legislature and Democratic Gov. Tim Walz have indicated in recent media interviews that there’s broad support for a fix, which could come during the 2023 session, or even earlier on the remote chance of a special session.

In Wisconsin, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ administration plans to propose a fix in the state budget next year, but that would have to be approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature. And Evers needs to get reelected in November before he can formally make that request. Republican legislative leaders and Evers’ GOP challenger, Tim Michels, did not reply to messages seeking comment on the student loan tax issue.

However, in Mississippi, the chairman of the state Senate committee in charge of taxes said he’s willing to take a look when the Legislature convenes next year. Republican state Sen. Josh Harkins, of Brandon, said he needs to learn more about what his state’s tax laws say on debt forgiveness.

“I’m sure people will want to look at adjusting that or making some changes in the law, but a lot of factors have to be considered,” Harkins said, noting that Mississippi enacted its biggest-ever tax cut earlier this year and adding that he wants to gauge the impact of inflation before making big tax policy decisions. “This all just hit in the last week.”

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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The Flaw in Biden’s Pro-Labor Record: Uber Drivers Are Still Waiting for Help

As a part-time Lyft driver in 2020, Nicole Moore was listening carefully when Joseph R. Biden Jr., a candidate for president, said the refusal by ride-hailing companies to treat their drivers as employees “deprives these workers of legally mandated benefits and protections.”

Labor activists like Ms. Moore, who runs an advocacy group in California called Rideshare Drivers United, hoped that Mr. Biden, as president, would spearhead a flurry of activity aimed at forcing companies in the gig economy like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash to classify drivers as employees rather than independent contractors. Such a change would mean paying the drivers a minimum wage, giving them benefits and making them eligible to unionize.

Instead, a year and a half into Mr. Biden’s presidency, little has been done at the federal level to address independent contractors. Enforcement of existing labor laws has not been notably beefed up. And the president’s nominee to lead the Labor Department’s enforcement division was voted down by the Senate, including by several Democrats.

labor issues and unions, and that they have been hamstrung by a recent court decision that extended a Trump-era rule making it easier for companies like Uber to argue their workers should be classified as independent contractors under federal law.

In statements, the White House and Labor Department emphasized the importance of addressing worker misclassification but did not single out gig companies like Uber.

“The president ran on an aggressive and comprehensive approach to addressing worker misclassification,” said Alexandra LaManna, a White House spokeswoman who used to be senior communications executive at Lyft. She added, “The policy of this administration is to strengthen worker power and a solution to worker misclassification is a key part of that agenda.”

passed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, which included language making it harder for companies to classify drivers as independent. The next month, Labor Secretary Martin J. Walsh suggested to Reuters that “in a lot of cases gig workers should be classified as employees,” sending shares of gig companies’ stock tumbling.

Mr. Weil would have investigated whether gig companies were violating labor law and sought retroactive minimum pay for drivers.

a judge threw it out. The companies were also stymied in Massachusetts. But without the threat of federal enforcement, their state-by-state approach got legislation passed this year in Washington, Georgia and Alabama.

Ms. Moore said she was pessimistic about Mr. Biden’s following through on his promises.

“That was certainly the hope,” she said. “I’m old enough to learn that you can’t pin all your hopes on any one politician.”

Kate Conger contributed reporting.

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Pace of Climate Change Sends Economists Back to Drawing Board

Economists have been examining the impact of climate change for almost as long as it’s been known to science.

In the 1970s, the Yale economist William Nordhaus began constructing a model meant to gauge the effect of warming on economic growth. The work, first published in 1992, gave rise to a field of scholarship assessing the cost to society of each ton of emitted carbon offset by the benefits of cheap power — and thus how much it was worth paying to avert it.

Dr. Nordhaus became a leading voice for a nationwide carbon tax that would discourage the use of fossil fuels and propel a transition toward more sustainable forms of energy. It remained the preferred choice of economists and business interests for decades. And in 2018, Dr. Nordhaus was honored with the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

Inflation Reduction Act with its $392 billion in climate-related subsidies, one thing became very clear: The nation’s biggest initiative to address climate change is built on a different foundation from the one Dr. Nordhaus proposed.

offers tax credits, loans and grants — technology-specific carrots that have historically been seen as less efficient than the stick of penalizing carbon emissions more broadly.

The outcome reflects a larger trend in public policy, one that is prompting economists to ponder why the profession was so focused on a solution that ultimately went nowhere in Congress — and how economists could be more useful as the damage from extreme weather mounts.

A central shift in thinking, many say, is that climate change has moved faster than foreseen, and in less predictable ways, raising the urgency of government intervention. In addition, technologies like solar panels and batteries are cheap and abundant enough to enable a fuller shift away from fossil fuels, rather than slightly decreasing their use.

Robert Kopp, a climate scientist at Rutgers University, worked on developing carbon pricing methods at the Department of Energy. He thinks the relentless focus on prices, with little attention paid to direct investments, lasted too long.

California. But a federal measure in the United States, setting a cap on carbon emissions and letting companies trade their allotments, failed in 2010.

At the same time, Dr. Nordhaus’s model was drawing criticism for underestimating the havoc that climate change would wreak. Like other models, it has been revised several times, but it still relies on broad assumptions and places less value on harm to future generations than it places on harm to those today. It also doesn’t fully incorporate the risk of less likely but substantially worse trajectories of warming.

Dr. Nordhaus dismissed the criticisms. “They are all subjective and based on selective interpretation of science and economics,” he wrote in an email. “Some people hold these views, as would be expected in any controversial subject, but many others do not.”

Heather Boushey, a member of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers who handles climate issues, says the field is learning that simply tinkering with prices won’t be enough as the climate nears catastrophic tipping points, like the evaporation of rivers, choking off whole regions and setting off a cascade of economic effects.

“So much of economics is about marginal changes,” Dr. Boushey said. “With climate, that no longer makes sense, because you have these systemic risks.” She sees her current assignment as similar to her previous work, running a think tank focused on inequality: “It profoundly alters the way people think about economics.”

To many economists, the approach pioneered by Dr. Nordhaus was increasingly out of step with the urgency that climate scientists were trying to communicate to policymakers. But a carbon tax remained at the center of a bipartisan effort on climate change, supported by a panoply of large corporations and more than 3,600 economists, that also called for removing “cumbersome regulations.”

speech in 2018, Dr. Nordhaus pegged the “optimal” carbon price — that is, the shared economic burden caused by each ton of emissions — at $43 in 2020. Gernot Wagner, a climate economist at Columbia Business School, called it a “woeful underestimate of the true cost” — noting that the prize committee’s home country already taxed carbon at $120 per ton.

another tack. Carbon prices, they reasoned, tend to hit lower-income people hardest. Even if the proceeds funded rebates to taxpayers, as many proponents recommended, similar promises by supporters of trade liberalization — that people whose jobs went offshore would get help finding new ones in a faster-growing economy — proved illusory. Besides, without government investment in low-carbon infrastructure, many people would have no alternative to continued carbon use.

“You’re saying, ‘Things are going to cost more, but we aren’t going to give you help to live with that transition,’” said Rhiana Gunn-Wright, director of climate policy at the left-leaning Roosevelt Institute and an architect of the Green New Deal. “Gas prices can go up, but the fact is, most people are locked into how much they have to travel each day.”

At the same time, the cost of technologies like solar panels and batteries for electric vehicles — in part because of huge investments by the Chinese government — was dropping within the range that would allow them to be deployed at scale.

For Ryan Kellogg, an energy economist who worked as an analyst for the oil giant BP before getting his Ph.D., that was a key realization. Leaving an economics department for the public policy school at the University of Chicago, and working with an interdisciplinary consortium including climate scientists, impressed on him two things: that fossil fuels needed to be phased out much faster than previously thought, and that it could be done at lower cost.

Just in the utility sector, for example, Dr. Kellogg recently found that carbon taxes aren’t meaningfully more efficient than subsidies or clean electricity standards in driving a full transition to wind and solar power. And as more essential devices can be powered by batteries, affordable electricity becomes paramount.

more useful for policymakers than broad, top-down economic models.

begun to look at the relationship between extreme weather and federal revenue. But because it’s still not clear how best to do that, other institutions are trying as well.

Carter Price, a mathematician at the nonprofit RAND Corporation, is working on a budget model that will incorporate the latest social science research, as well as climate science, to inform long-term policy decisions.

“This is a space where having more models early on would be better,” Dr. Price said. “Rather than someone has an assumption, that assumption goes into a model, nobody questions it and, 10 years later, we realize that assumption is pretty powerful and maybe not right.”

The larger lesson is that modern climate policy is a complex endeavor that calls for large, interdisciplinary teams — which is not historically how the economics field has operated.

“You can only do so much by writing things down on a single sheet of paper from your office at Yale,” said Dr. Kopp, of Rutgers. “That’s not how science gets done. That’s how a lot of economics gets done. But you run into limits.”

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Judge Puts Utah Ban On Transgender Kids In Sports On Hold

By Associated Press
August 19, 2022

Similar cases are underway in states such as Idaho, West Virginia and Indiana.

Transgender kids in Utah will not be subjected to sports participation limits at the start of the upcoming school year after a judge delayed the implementation of a statewide ban passed earlier this year.

Judge Keith Kelly’s decision Friday to put the law on hold until a legal challenge is resolved came after he recently rejected a request by Utah state attorneys to dismiss the case. Most Utah schools students head back to classes this month.

Attorneys representing the families of three transgender student-athletes filed the lawsuit challenging the ban last May, contending it violates the Utah Constitution’s guarantees of equal rights and due process.

Similar cases are underway in states such as Idaho, West Virginia, and Indiana.

The issue of whether transgender girls should be allowed to participate in female sports has become a flashpoint across the U.S., with Republican lawmakers passing a legislation to block them based on the premise it gives them an unfair competitive advantage.

Transgender rights advocates counter that the rules aren’t just about sports, but another way to demean and attack transgender youth.

As of March, the Utah High School Activities Association knew of only one transgender girl playing in K-12 sports who would be affected by the ban.

The association, which organizes leagues for 85,000 students, has said there have been no publicly made allegations of competitive advantage concerning any of the state’s four transgender youth athletes.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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3 Charged In 2018 Killing Of Boston Gangster Whitey Bulger

The charges come nearly four years after Bulger’s killing.

Three men, including a Mafia hitman, have been charged in the 2018 killing of notorious Boston crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger, the Justice Department said Thursday.

The charges against Fotios “Freddy” Geas, Paul J. DeCologero and Sean McKinnon come nearly four years after Bulger’s killing, which raised questions about why the known “snitch” was placed in the West Virginia prison’s general population instead of more protective housing. The men were charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.

Authorities have not revealed a possible motive for Bulger’s killing in October 2018, which came hours after he was transferred to USP Hazelton in West Virginia from a prison in Florida. He had been serving a life sentence for 11 murders and other crimes. Prosecutors allege Geas and DeCologero struck Bulger in the head multiple times, causing his death.

Bulger, who ran the largely Irish mob in Boston in the 1970s and ’80s, served as an FBI informant who ratted on his gang’s main rival, according to the bureau. He later became one of the nation’s most-wanted fugitives. Bulger strongly denied ever being a government informant.

The Justice Department has also charged Geas, 55, and DeCologero, 48, with aiding and abetting first-degree murder, along with assault resulting in serious bodily injury. Geas faces a separate charge of murder by a federal inmate serving a life sentence, and McKinnon, 36, is charged separately with making false statements to a federal agent.

Geas and DeCologero were identified as suspects shortly after Bulger’s death, according to law enforcement officials at the time, but they remained uncharged as the investigation dragged on for years.

All three were placed in solitary confinement throughout the probe, family members told The Boston Globe. McKinnon’s mother told the newspaper that her son, who was Geas’ cellmate at the time of Bulger’s killing, told her he didn’t know anything about the slaying.

Daniel Kelly, an attorney for Geas, said Thursday that the charges aren’t a surprise, but don’t justify his client’s continued placement in solitary confinement.

Emails seeking comment were sent Thursday to an attorney for Bulger’s family. It wasn’t immediately clear if McKinnon and DeCologero had attorneys to comment on their behalf.

Geas remains in prison in Hazelton. DeCologero is being held in another federal prison facility. McKinnon was released from prison last month after pleading guilty in 2015 to stealing guns from a firearms dealer. He was on federal supervised release when the indictment was handed down, and was arrested Thursday in Florida.

Bulger was the third inmate killed in six months at USP Hazelton, where workers and advocates had long warned of dangerous conditions at the penitentiary nicknamed “Misery Mountain.”

Bulger’s family sued the Federal Bureau of Prisons and 30 unnamed employees of the prison system over his death, alleging it appeared the gangster was “deliberately sent to his death.” A federal judge dismissed the family’s lawsuit in January.

Bulger fled Boston in late 1994 after his FBI handler, John Connolly Jr., warned him he was about to be indicted.

After more than 16 years on the run and with a $2 million reward on his head, he was captured at age 81 in Santa Monica, California, where he had been living in a rent-controlled apartment near the beach with his longtime girlfriend, Catherine Greig.

He was convicted in 2013 of the 11 slayings, as well as extortion and money-laundering after a sensational racketeering trial.

His transfer to Hazelton was prompted by disciplinary issues, a federal law enforcement official told The Associated Press in 2018. The official insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to release details. In February 2018, Bulger threatened an assistant supervisor at the prison in Florida, telling her “your day of reckoning is coming.”

A prison workers’ union official told the AP that year that sending Bulger to the troubled federal penitentiary that housed other New England gangsters was like giving him a “death sentence.”

But Bulger never admitted to working for the FBI. Court papers made public in the civil case brought by his family showed that he was interviewed by staff after arriving at Hazelton about whether there were reasons he should be kept out of the general population. An intake screening form signed by Bulger said he answered “no” to questions such as “have you assisted law enforcement agents in any way?”

DeCologero was part of an organized crime gang led by his uncle on Massachusetts’ North Shore called the “DeCologero Crew.”

He was convicted of buying heroin that was used to try to kill a teenage girl his uncle wanted dead because he feared she “would betray the crew to police.” The heroin didn’t kill her, so another man broke her neck, dismembered her and buried her remains in the woods, court records say.

Geas was a close associate of the Mafia and acted as an enforcer, but was not an official “made” member because he’s Greek, not Italian.

Geas and his brother were sentenced to life in prison in 2011 for their roles in several violent crimes, including the 2003 killing of Adolfo “Big Al” Bruno, a Genovese crime family boss in Springfield, Massachusetts. Another mobster ordered Bruno’s killing because he was upset he had talked to the FBI, prosecutors said.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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Electric Cars Are Too Costly for Many, Even With Aid in Climate Bill

Policymakers in Washington are promoting electric vehicles as a solution to climate change. But an uncomfortable truth remains: Battery-powered cars are much too expensive for a vast majority of Americans.

Congress has begun trying to address that problem. The climate and energy package passed on Sunday by the Senate, the Inflation Reduction Act, would give buyers of used electric cars a tax credit.

But automakers have complained that the credit would apply to only a narrow slice of vehicles, at least initially, largely because of domestic sourcing requirements. And experts say broader steps are needed to make electric cars more affordable and to get enough of them on the road to put a serious dent in greenhouse gas emissions.

would eliminate this cap and extend the tax credit until 2032; used cars would also qualify for a credit of up to $4,000.

With so much demand, carmakers have little reason to target budget-minded buyers. Economy car stalwarts like Toyota and Honda are not yet selling significant numbers of all-electric models in the United States. Scarcity has been good for Ford, Mercedes-Benz and other carmakers that are selling fewer cars than before the pandemic but recording fat profits.

Automakers are “not giving any more discounts because demand is higher than the supply,” said Axel Schmidt, a senior managing director at Accenture who oversees the consulting firm’s automotive division. “The general trend currently is no one is interested in low prices.”

Advertised prices for electric vehicles tend to start around $40,000, not including a federal tax credit of $7,500. Good luck finding an electric car at that semi-affordable price.

Ford has stopped taking orders for Lightning electric pickups, with an advertised starting price of about $40,000, because it can’t make them fast enough. Hyundai advertises that its electric Ioniq 5 starts at about $40,000. But the cheapest models available from dealers in the New York area, based on a search of the company’s website, were around $49,000 before taxes.

Tesla’s Model 3, which the company began producing in 2017, was supposed to be an electric car for average folks, with a base price of $35,000. But Tesla has since raised the price for the cheapest version to $47,000.

pass the House, would give buyers of used cars a tax credit of up to $4,000. The used-car market is twice the size of the new-car market and is where most people get their rides.

But the tax credit for used cars would apply only to those sold for $25,000 or less. Less than 20 percent of used electric vehicles fit that category, said Scott Case, chief executive of Recurrent, a research firm focused on the used-vehicle market.

The supply of secondhand vehicles will grow over time, Mr. Case said. He noted that the Model 3, which has sold more than any other electric car, became widely available only in 2018. New-car buyers typically keep their vehicles three or four years before trading them in.

SAIC’s MG unit sells an electric S.U.V. in Europe for about $31,000 before incentives.

New battery designs offer hope for cheaper electric cars but will take years to appear in lower-priced models. Predictably, next-generation batteries that charge faster and go farther are likely to appear first in luxury cars, like those from Porsche and Mercedes.

Companies working on these advanced technologies argue that they will ultimately reduce costs for everyone by packing more energy into smaller packages. A smaller battery saves weight and cuts the cost of cooling systems, brakes and other components because they can be designed for a lighter car.

You can actually decrease everything else,” said Justin Mirro, chief executive of Kensington Capital Acquisition, which helped the battery maker QuantumScape go public and is preparing a stock market listing for the fledgling battery maker Amprius Technologies. “It just has this multiplier effect.”

$45 million in grants to firms or researchers working on batteries that, among other things, would last longer, to create a bigger supply of used vehicles.

“We also need cheaper batteries, and batteries that charge faster and work better in the winter,” said Halle Cheeseman, a program director who focuses on batteries at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, part of the Department of Energy.

Gene Berdichevsky, chief executive of Sila Nanotechnologies, a California company working on next-generation battery technology, argues that prices are following a curve like the one solar cells did. Prices for solar panels ticked up when demand began to take off, but soon resumed a steady decline.

The first car to use Sila’s technology will be a Mercedes luxury S.U.V. But Mr. Berdichevsky said: “I’m not in this to make toys for the rich. I’m here to make all cars go electric.” 

A few manufacturers offer cars aimed at the less wealthy. A Chevrolet Bolt, a utilitarian hatchback, lists for $25,600 before incentives. Volkswagen said this month that the entry-level version of its 2023 ID.4 electric sport utility vehicle, which the German carmaker has begun manufacturing at its factory in Chattanooga, Tenn., will start at $37,500, or around $30,000 if it qualifies for the federal tax credit.

Then there is the Wuling Hongguang Mini EV, produced in China by a joint venture of General Motors and the Chinese automakers SAIC and Wuling. The car reportedly outsells the Tesla Model 3 in China. While the $4,500 price tag is unbeatable, it is unlikely that many Americans would buy a car with a top speed of barely 60 miles per hour and a range slightly over 100 miles. There is no sign that the car will be exported to the United States.

Eventually, Ms. Bailo of the Center for Automotive Research said, carmakers will run out of well-heeled buyers and aim at the other 95 percent.

“They listen to their customers,” she said. “Eventually that demand from high-income earners is going to abate.”

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Dems’ Climate, Energy, Tax Bill Clears Initial Senate Hurdle

United Democrats pushed the 755-page measure through the Senate on a party-line vote.

A divided Senate voted Saturday to start debating Democrats’ election-year economic bill, boosting the sprawling collection of President Joe Biden’s priorities on climate, energy, health and taxes past its initial test as it starts moving through Congress.

In a preview of votes expected on a mountain of amendments, united Democrats pushed the legislation through the evenly divided chamber by 51-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie and overcoming unanimous Republican opposition. The package, a dwindled version of earlier multitrillion-dollar measures that Democrats failed to advance, has become a partisan battleground over inflation, gasoline prices and other issues that polls show are driving voters.

The House, where Democrats have a slender majority, could give it final approval next Friday when lawmakers plan to return to Washington.

The vote came after the Senate parliamentarian gave a thumbs-up to most of Democrats’ revised 755-page bill. But Elizabeth MacDonough, the chamber’s nonpartisan rules arbiter, said Democrats had to drop a significant part of their plan for curbing drug prices.

MacDonough said Democrats violated Senate budget rules with language imposing hefty penalties on drug makers who boost their prices beyond inflation in the private insurance market. Those were the bill’s chief pricing protections for the roughly 180 million people whose health coverage comes from private insurance, either through work or bought on their own.

Other pharmaceutical provisions were left intact, including giving Medicare the power to negotiate what it pays for drugs for its 64 million elderly recipients, a longtime Democratic aspiration. Penalties on manufacturers for exceeding inflation would apply to drugs sold to Medicare, and there is a $2,000 annual out-of-pocket cap on drug costs and free vaccines for Medicare beneficiaries.

“The time is now to move forward with a big, bold package for the American people,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. “This historic bill will reduce inflation, lower costs, fight climate change. It’s time to move this nation forward.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Democrats “are misreading the American people’s outrage as a mandate for yet another reckless taxing and spending spree.” He said Democrats “have already robbed American families once through inflation and now their solution is to rob American families yet a second time.”

Saturday’s vote capped a startling 10-day period that saw Democrats resurrect top components of President Biden’s agenda that had seemed dead. In rapid-fire deals with Democrats’ two most unpredictable senators — first conservative Joe Manchin of West Virginia, then Arizona centrist Kyrsten Sinema — Schumer pieced together a package that would give the party an achievement against the backdrop of this fall’s congressional elections.

A White House statement said the legislation “would help tackle today’s most pressing economic challenges, make our economy stronger for decades to come, and position the United States to be the world’s leader in clean energy.”

Assuming Democrats fight off a nonstop “vote-a-rama” of amendments — many designed by Republicans to derail the measure — they should be able to muscle the measure through the Senate.

“What will vote-a-rama be like? It will be like hell,” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, said of the approaching GOP amendments. He said that in supporting the Democratic bill, Manchin and Sinema “are empowering legislation that will make the average person’s life more difficult” by forcing up energy costs with tax increases and making it harder for companies to hire workers.

The bill offers spending and tax incentives favored by progressives for buying electric vehicles and making buildings more energy efficient. But in a bow to Manchin, whose state is a leading fossil fuel producer, there is also money to reduce coal plant carbon emissions and language requiring the government to open more federal land and waters to oil drilling.

Expiring subsidies that help millions of people afford private insurance premiums would be extended for three years, and there is $4 billion to help Western states combat drought. A new provision would create a $35 monthly cap for insulin, the expensive diabetes medication, for Medicare and private insurance patients starting next year. It seemed possible that language could be weakened or removed during debate.

Reflecting Democrats’ calls for tax equity, there would be a new 15% minimum tax on some corporations that earn over $1 billion annually but pay far less than the current 21% corporate tax. Companies buying back their own stock would be taxed 1% for those transactions, swapped in after Sinema refused to support higher taxes on private equity firm executives and hedge fund managers. The IRS budget would be pumped up to strengthen its tax collections.

While the bill’s final costs are still being determined, it overall would spend close to $400 billion over 10 years to slow climate change, which analysts say would be the country’s largest investment in that effort, and billions more on health care. It would raise more than $700 billion in taxes and from government drug cost savings, leaving about $300 billion for deficit reduction over the coming decade — a blip compared to that period’s projected $16 trillion in budget shortfalls.

Democrats are using special procedures that would let them pass the measure without having to reach the 60-vote majority that legislation often needs in the Senate.

The parliamentarian decides whether parts of legislation must be dropped for violating those rules, which include a requirement that provisions be chiefly aimed at affecting the federal budget, not imposing new policy.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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