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COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Will Be Challenging. States Rush To Plan Ahead : Shots


While coronavirus vaccine trials are ongoing and U.S. vaccine has yet to be approved, state health officials are planning ahead for how to eventually immunized a large swath of the population.

Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images


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While coronavirus vaccine trials are ongoing and U.S. vaccine has yet to be approved, state health officials are planning ahead for how to eventually immunized a large swath of the population.

Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

Even the most effective, safest coronavirus vaccine won’t work to curb the spread of the virus unless a large number of people get immunized. And getting a vaccine from the manufacturers all the way into people’s arms requires complex logistics — and will take many months.

Now, public health officers across the country are rushing to finish up the first draft of plans for how to distribute a coronavirus vaccine if and when it is authorized, and they’re grappling with a host of unknowns as they try to design a system for getting the vaccine out to everyone who wants it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave state immunization managers only 30 days to draft a comprehensive COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan — and Friday is the day those plans are due.

The timing of vaccine research and planning is politically fraught, with the presidential election a few weeks away. When CDC announced the October deadline last month, critics worried that political pressure was tainting the process, since President Trump has repeatedly promised a vaccine will be ready soon.

“If you listen to the White House, [vaccine distribution] could be just a matter of weeks away,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters on Thursday. He and Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson sent a letter to President Trump on behalf of the National Governors Association, asking for a meeting to talk through the many unanswered questions about the process.

“We need to know: What is the plan? What does the federal government do, what do you expect the states to do? When does it start? Who funds it?” Cuomo said. “Let’s figure it out now, because this virus has been ahead of us every step of the way — it’s about time this country catches up.”

Planning fast, with changing expectations

For dozens of public health officials across the country, the process over the past month has been like “herding a lot of cats,” says Claire Hannan, director of the Association of Immunization Managers. “It’s really cramming three to six months worth of strategic discussions […] into 30 days,” she says.

States need to lay the groundwork for distribution now, says James Blumenstock, vice president for pandemic response and recovery for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. That means deciding who’s in charge of responsibilities such as ordering supplies, signing up vaccine providers, training staff, running mass vaccination clinics and outreach campaigns, he explains. They’ll also need a data management system to track who received an initial vaccine dose, and to remind them to come back for their second dose.

“We have been working feverishly over the past few weeks,” says Decrecia Limbrick, assistant director of the Department of Health in Houston, which is one of several large cities that receives funding directly from CDC. “I think we’re ready to submit a plan — a ‘Version One’ of a plan.”

Then there are conflicting messages from the Trump administration. “Originally there had been talk about hurrying up and getting your plan done because the vaccine will be ready before the election,” says Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious disease for Minnesota’s Department of Health. When the Food and Drug Administration recently said that vaccine trials must allow two months after the last experimental dose is administered, that guidance “changes the timeline” again.

“It’s pretty much like being in a continuous earthquake,” she adds. “The ground is constantly moving.”

Overcoming logistical hurdles

Nobody knows which vaccine will be authorized first, when that will happen, which populations it will be authorized for, and how many initial doses will be available.

Adding to this uncertainty is the likelihood that the first coronavirus vaccines will be extremely challenging to handle. The CDC playbook notes the vaccines will likely require cold chain storage — possibly “ultra-cold” storage, which is colder than Antarctica — must be given in two doses a certain number of days apart, and could have a minimum order of 1,000 doses.

“For routine vaccines, [providers] will order 10 doses at the time or 20 doses at a time,” explains Michigan Department of Health and Human Services immunization director Bob Swanson. “It makes it more difficult to think about — how are we going to use a thousand doses for at risk populations across a rural county?”

Initially, the focus will be on the priority groups who will be first in line to get immunized. The specifics of who that will be are still getting worked out by a CDC advisory committee, although frontline health workers will almost certainly be at the top of the list. There are also concerns about distributing the vaccine equitably to communities that, for instance, speak different languages or are difficult to reach, especially at first when doses are limited.

As immunization managers look ahead to the coming year, different places around the country face a range of challenges.

Then there are seasonal issues. During a North Dakota winter, freezing temperatures and snowfall make outdoor drive-through clinics untenable, says Molly Howell, North Dakota’s immunization program manager, so they’re considering using warehouses or sporting venues for mass vaccination campaigns, so that people can gather indoors while maintaining physical distance. “Those are some of the ways that we’re trying to be creative about vaccinating people safely during the pandemic,” she says.

In Houston, officials are thinking ahead to the complications of the hot and humid summer. “If we get those hot days, we want to obviously ensure that we maintain the integrity of the vaccine,” says Limbrick of the Houston Department of Health, and they have to think about taking care of the medical staff who have to administer the vaccine in those conditions.

“After [health officials] push that button on Friday afternoon, on Saturday morning, they’re going to continue to work on their planning efforts going forward over the days and weeks and months ahead,” says Blumenstock of ASTHO. And when the first vaccine is authorized, “it’s going to be close to a year-long effort,” he says, to immunize everyone across the country who wants to be vaccinated.

Finding the money to execute plans

CDC director Robert Redfield told Congress last month that states are going to need around $6 billion dollars to distribute vaccines.

“This is going to take substantial resources,” Redfield told lawmakers. “The time is now for us to be able to get those resources out to the state[s].”

On Thursday, ASTHO and the Association of Immunization Managers wrote a letter formally requested $8.4 billion from Congress for these efforts.

The letter notes that so far CDC has distributed $200 million to states, territories, and a few large cities to fund the vaccine planning process — but describes this sum as “merely a down payment.” And with the election looming, the chances of a new COVID-19 relief bill getting through the legislature anytime soon are dim.

“The funding I don’t have control over, but I do have control over how we’re going to get vaccines out when they’re available,” says Swanson. “And I will tell you, public health is strong, and public health works hard, and immunizations are public health’s bread and butter.”

Michigan has received $5.9 million so far, and Swanson says that money has gone to getting the state’s immunization registry up to speed, and to local health departments for staffing.

The lack of clarity about funding troubles Dr. Kelly Moore, associate director of immunization education at the Immunization Action Coalition and the former director of Tennessee’s immunization program.

States need additional funds to be able to carry out the plans they’re submitting to CDC, she says. “They need to be able to invest in manpower, in I.T. systems and in the people to use them,” she explains, adding that those who are brought in to run the vaccination campaigns from other parts of the health department like STD clinics and family planning, will also need to be backfilled.

“A lot of things need to be paid for with these billions of dollars,” she says. “Even the best laid plans can’t be executed if you don’t have the resources to do so.”



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UK, France and Germany plan Russia sanctions over Navalny poisoning



Navalny, a fierce critic of the Kremlin, became gravely ill on a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk to Moscow on August 20. He was treated at the Charité Hospital in Berlin and was discharged in late September.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed Tuesday that blood and urine samples taken from Navalny showed the presence of Novichok, a Soviet-era group of nerve agents. A Novichok agent was also used in a March 2018 attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the English city of Salisbury.

The foreign ministers of France and Germany released a joint statement Wednesday saying they were putting forward a proposal to European partners that target “individuals deemed responsible for this crime and breach of international norms,” including Russian officials and entities involved in the country’s Novichok chemical weapon program.

“A murder attempt has been made on Russian soil, against a Russian opposition figure, using a military-grade nerve agent developed by Russia,” the statement said.

“We believe that there is no credible explanation for the poisoning of Mr Navalny other than Russian involvement and responsibility,” the pair said in a statement.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Britain would work with its international partners to take such sanctions forward. “The UK stands side by side with our German and French partners in our response to the abhorrent poisoning of Alexey Navalny,” he said in a statement Wednesday evening.

“Despite having a clear case to answer, the Russian authorities continue to make no credible attempt to investigate this attack. There is no plausible explanation for Mr Navalny’s poisoning other than Russian involvement and responsibility for this appalling attack.”

The Kremlin has strongly denied any involvement in Navalny’s poisoning, and offered to cooperate with Germany in an investigation into the matter, according to state news agency TASS.

TASS previously reported that Russia had “eliminated” all warfare agents, including Novichok, citing Sergei Naryshkin, the Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service. “[Warfare agents] were eliminated in accordance with OPCW procedures and rules which was properly documented. Any speculation Russia still produces or keeps in stock the old reserves of chemical warfare agents are disinformation, of course,” Naryshkin reportedly said.

Asked Tuesday about the OPCW findings, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists, “we do not have the information yet.”

Journalists Gaëlle Fournier in Paris and Nadine Schmidt in Berlin contributed to this report.



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Iran condemns Bahrain’s plan to normalize ties with Israel


TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran on Saturday strongly condemned Bahrain’s plan to normalize relations with Israel, calling it a shameful and ignominious move by the Gulf Arab country.

Bahrain’s announcement Friday followed a similar normalization agreement last month by the United Arab Emirates, a fellow U.S. ally. The two Arab nations’ establishment of full relations with Israel is part of a broader push by the Trump administration find common ground with countries that share U.S. wariness of Iran. Tehran’s arch rival Saudi Arabia may also be close to a deal.

In a statement, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said Bahrain’s normalization “will remain in the historical memory of the oppressed and downtrodden people of Palestine and the world’s free nations forever.”

Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard also denounced Bahrain’s move using similar language, calling it a betrayal of the Palestinian people and a “threat to security in West Asia and the Muslim world.”

The agreements by the UAE and now Bahrain are a setback for Palestinian leaders, who have urged Arab nations to withhold recognition until they have secured an independent state. The Palestinians have seen a steady erosion in once-unified Arab support — one of the few cards they still held as leverage against Israel — since President Donald Trump began pursuing an unabashedly pro-Israel agenda.

The Foreign Ministry statement also said Bahrain’s government and the other supporting governments would be held accountable for any act by Israel that causes insecurity in the Persian Gulf region.

The island of Bahrain lies just off the coast of Saudi Arabia, and is among the world’s smallest countries, only about 760 square kilometers (290 square miles). Bahrain’s location in the Persian Gulf long has made it a trading stop and a naval defensive position. The island is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet and a recently built British naval base.

Like Iran, Bahrain’s population is majority Shiite, and the country has been ruled since 1783 by the Sunni Al Khalifa family.

Since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, Bahrain’s rulers have blamed Iran for arming militants on the island. Iran denies the accusations. Bahrain’s Shiite majority has accused the government of treating them like second-class citizens. The Shiites joined pro-democracy activists in demanding more political freedoms in 2011, as Arab Spring protests swept across the wider Middle East. Saudi and Emirati troops ultimately helped violently put down the demonstrations.



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Ford forges ahead with back-to-school plan


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Teacher unions, school trustees and, according to polling, the majority of parents have concerns about school reopenings.

A committee of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) passed a motion Tuesday to ask Chair Alexander Brown to write to the Ford government for more resources to implement a COVID-19 plan.

Going before the full TDSB board Thursday is a motion to require all students including the youngest learners to wear masks in schools.

The Ministry of Education has made masks mandatory for students in Grades 4 and up, and recommended face coverings for those in Grade 3 or lower.

When asked about the issue Wednesday, Ford said that as a father of four daughters, he’s not convinced it will be easy to get kids in junior and regular kindergarten to safely wear masks.

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

“When they’re four years old, five years old, it’s hard to keep the mask on them,” Ford said. “But, again, we’ll be there, we’ll support the board if that’s what they want to do, but keeping a mask on a JK or senior kindergarten[er] might be difficult. But we’ll support it.”

In Ontario, 2,564 people aged 19 or younger have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the latest public health data.

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Sycamore Partners offers $1.75B for JCPenny with plan to grow Belks



The private equity firm that backed out of a deal to buy Victoria’s Secret in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic appears poised to win an auction to buy JCPenny out of bankruptcy, The Post has learned.

Big Apple-based Sycamore Partners has offered $1.75 billion to buy the 118-year-old department store chain with plans to merge it with Belks, a source with knowledge of the situation told The Post.

Sycamore sees JCPenny helping to revive the North Carolina-based Belks, a struggling department store chain with 300 stores located mostly in the South, the source said. Sycamore owns Belks, as well as retailers Talbots, Staples, The Limited.

“JCP is the lifeboat for Belks, which wants to compete with Macy’s nationally,” the source explained.

Also in the running for JCPenny is Saks Fifth Avenue owner Hudson’s Bay Company, which offered $1.7 billion, and mall operators Simon Property and Brookfield Property, which have teamed up with a $1.650 billion offer, sources said.

While the deal is still subject to approval from the court as well as from JCPenney’s lenders, creditors and board, Sycamore has been in the lead since bids were due on July 22, sources said.

“The bidders were told that Belk/Sycamore submitted the strongest bid to acquire JCP” one source said.

A second source, however, noted that all of the bidders are still in the running. “The three bids are being analyzed and because there’s not a big difference between them, it means that all three are seeing a similar valuation,” this person said.

Both JCPenney and Belk, founded in 1888, have suffered from declining sales amid competition from fresher brands and online retailers like Amazon. JCPenney was also saddled with $5 billion in debt when it filed for bankruptcy protection.

The Sycamore plan involves rebranding some 250 JCPenney stores to Belk stores in markets where the two retailers don’t overlap. The rest of the JCPenny locations would be liquidated, the source said.

Plano, Texas-based JCPenney operated 850 stores when it filed for bankruptcy protection on May 15. In June, it announced plans to close at least 154 stores permanently.

Belk CEO Lisa Harper would run the combined entity. While Sycamore isn’t interested in keeping the JCPenney brand, it would acquire the rights to the name and could sell the intellectual property at a later date, a source said.

Sycamore acquired Belk in 2015. Harper replaced Tim Belk as CEO the following year — marking the first time the family-owned department store chain was run by someone outside the family.

Earlier this year, Sycamore offered $1 billion for a controlling stake in iconic but troubled lingerie peddler Victoria’s Secret. But the buyout firm wiggled out of the deal in May by claiming that the retailer’s parent company, L Brands, had violated the terms of their deal by closing Victoria’s Secret stores and failing to pay their rent during the pandemic.

Two weeks later, L Brand’s billionaire founder Retail legend Leslie Wexner retired after 56 years at the helm.

JCPenney and Sycamore declined to comment.



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Trump attacks plan to paint ‘Black Lives Matter’ outside his New York City home – live | US news


Arizona recorded more coronavirus deaths, infections, hospitalizations and emergency-room visits in a single day than ever before in a crisis, in a day across the Sunbelt that sent a shudder through other parts of the country and led distant states to put their own reopening plans on hold.

“Put a mask on it”Vice President Mike Pence waves as he arrives to meet with Arizona governor Doug Ducey to discuss the surge in coronavirus cases.

“Put a mask on it”

Vice President Mike Pence waves as he arrives to meet with Arizona governor Doug Ducey to discuss the surge in coronavirus cases. Photograph: Ross D Franklin/AP

In Florida, hospitals braced for an influx of patients, with the biggest medical center in Florida’s hardest-hit county, Miami’s Jackson Health System, scaling back elective surgeries and other procedures to make room for victims of the resurgence underway across the South and West, The Associated Press reports.

Vice President Mike Pence, head of the White House coronavirus task force, planned to visit Arizona today, where cases have spiked since stay-at-home orders expired in mid-May.

Arizona reported record single-day highs of almost 4,900 new Covid-19 cases, 88 new deaths, close to 1,300 ER visits and a running total of nearly 2,900 people in the hospital.

Florida recorded more than 6,500 new cases down from around 9,000 on some days last week, but still alarming and a running total of over 3,500 deaths.

Ahead of the Fourth of July, counties in South Florida are closing beaches to fend off large crowds that could spread the virus.

The run-up in cases has been blamed in part on what New Jersey’s governor called “knucklehead behavior” by Americans not wearing masks or obeying other social-distancing rules.

“Too many people were crowding into restaurants late at night, turning these establishments into breeding grounds for this deadly virus,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said in forbidding restaurants with seating for more than eight people from serving customers inside from midnight to 6am.

Health experts say the virus in Florida and other Southern states risks becoming uncontrollable, with case numbers too large to trace.

Marilyn Rauth, a senior citizen in Punta Gorda, said Florida’s reopening was “too much too soon.”
“The sad thing is the Covid-19 spread will probably go on for some time though we could have flattened the curve with responsible leadership,” she said.

“Experience now has shown most people won’t social distance at beaches, bars, etc. The governor evidently has no concern for the health of the state’s citizens.”

Some distant states and cities that seemed to have tamed their outbreaks, including Colorado, Virginia, Delaware and New Jersey, hit pause or backtracked on some of their reopening plans for bars and restaurants.

And New York and New Jersey are asking visitors from 16 states from the Carolinas to California to quarantine themselves for two weeks.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city is delaying its resumption of indoor dining at restaurants, and not because of any rise in cases there.

The number of confirmed cases in the US per day has roughly doubled over the past month, hitting 44,800 on Tuesday, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

That is higher even than what the nation witnessed during the deadliest stretch of the crisis in mid-April through early May.



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New testing plan to be published on Thursday


A new plan for Covid-19 testing is to be published on Thursday committing to a 72-hour turnaround time for the the completion of test and contact tracing, as well as the long-promised target of 100,000 tests per week.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) plan will form a core part of new guidelines that will support the process of gradually easing restrictions from May 18th.

The testing arrangements will contain a series of key performance indicators, including the number of tests per week, the turnaround time for results and targets for contact tracing.

It comes after criticism of the nine-day average turnaround from when a test is taken to results returning to the patient. Most experts recommend a 72-hour timeframe.



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Greta Thunberg news: EU’s plan to let activist speak in Brussels despite ban outrages MEPs | World | News


Nuno Melo, a Portuguese MEP, condemned the bloc’s decision in a bombshell letter to EU Parliament president David Sassoli. He demanded an answer as to why Greta was deemed an “exception” to the ban ahead of her talk. Mr Melo also said that “human beings are democratically equal,” referencing a bias towards the 17-year-old.

Belgian MEP Hilde Vautmans also waded in questioning “how can we explain this to our visitors and guests”.

She added: “Everyone should be treated equally.

“If the European Parliament grants an exception to Greta Thunberg, this house will not be taken seriously.”

The climate change activist will be in the Belgium capital on Wednesday and is expected to deliver her speech to MEPs.

Most recently, she was in Bristol talking to activists on Friday.

A spokeswoman for parliament said: “This is not a decision linked to a particular person.

“Any speaker specifically invited by the president of an official body of the parliament is allowed to attend.”

Other MEPs also joined in asking for further clarification as to why the Swede was allowed to attend Parliament.

JUST IN: ‘Anti-Greta Thunberg’ hits out at teenage climate activist

On Tuesday, Spain confirmed that it had recorded its first death.

Reports say that the virus was the reason a man died in a Valencia hospital.

In the UK, 51 people have contracted the disease.

The Government has put its plan in place how it intends to tackle the coronavirus.



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Republicans Plan Legislative Blitz to Back Trump State of the Union Agenda



Republicans in the House are planning a full-scale offensive to back up the agenda President Donald Trump presented during Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

Beginning with a measure on Thursday from Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-VA), Republicans will offer legislation and other measures to support the American successes Trump laid out in his historic address on Tuesday night.

Riggleman presented a resolution for Congress to support Trump’s “Best is Yet to Come” policy blueprint on Thursday, which explicitly highlights the vision Trump detailed in the SOTU.

“Supporting policies that are a part of the ‘Best is Yet to Come’ blueprint, outlined by President Trump during his historic, optimistic State of the Union Address,” the resolution’s text states, specifically quoting several passages from Trump’s address.

The resolution states in part:

Whereas on February 4, 2020, President Trump noted that, “The unemployment rates for African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and Asian-Americans have reached the lowest levels in history. African-American youth unemployment has reached an all-time low.”

It continues, quoting several lines directly from the SOTU address, including: Millions of Americans coming off food stamp rolls; jobs and investment “pouring into 9,000 previously-neglected neighborhoods thanks to Opportunity Zones”; the administration’s promise to stand against socialism and stand up for freedom; the vow to continue “building an inclusive society” by “making sure that every young American gets a great education and the opportunity to achieve the American Dream”; the administration’s commitment to the “One Trillion Trees Initiative”; the administration’s end of the catch-and-release of illegal immigrants; and the administration’s commitment to uphold religious liberty and the “Constitutional right to pray in public schools,” among other examples.

The resolution asks Congress to support policies “that further expands the booming economic growth outlined by President Trump in his State of the Union address” and to embrace the “‘Best is Yet to Come’ policy blueprint for the people of the United States” as outlined in the SOTU.

“This agenda is an optimistic plan to continue the record-setting economic growth we are seeing and provide solutions to problems that ail American citizens,” Riggleman said on the House floor on Thursday.

“It is imperative that Congress step forward and support this agenda as I do,” he added.

“[It’s] an agenda that dramatically lowers prescription drug processionals and raises wages for hardworking Americans. An agenda that will build an inclusive society and make sure every young American has the opportunity to achieve the American dream,” he continued, citing the historically low national unemployment rate of 3.5 percent.

“It is clear the economic policies the president has implemented are working. The ‘Best is Yet to Come’ blueprint will continue this growth and build upon it,” Riggleman said.

“The American economy is stronger than ever, and we should work to continue this growth,” he added.

Nevertheless, by advancing the Previous Question on Thursday, House Democrats effectively rejected consideration of the resolution, making it clear on Tuesday night and thereafter that, despite the successes for Americans on a variety of policy fronts, they intend to continue their historic opposition to Trump and his agenda due to personal animosity.

“President Trump delivered an incredible speech with policy goals that can unite the country and grow our economy, and House Republicans want to help him follow through on those goals,” a House GOP aide told Breitbart News in an exclusive statement.

“Everyone in America needs to understand that the Democrats from districts where President Trump won continuously vote for the agenda of AOC and Pelosi instead of supporting our president,” the aide added.

The Democrats’ latest and most severe effort to undercut Trump — the push to impeach him — failed in grand fashion in the U.S. Senate the day after his SOTU address. The Senate voted by substantial margins to acquit the president on all charges brought by the House, which impeached him for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

With less than a year from the November elections, Republicans in the House are intensifying efforts to contrast their backing of the Trump agenda with the Democrats’ far-left, socialist vision. In the coming weeks and months ahead, the GOP will embark on a full-scale effort to differentiate themselves from what President Trump calls the “Do-nothing Democrats” and offer different pieces of legislation to support tenants of the “Best is Yet to Come” blueprint in coming weeks.

The GOP needs to take back a net of 18 seats from Democrats in this year’s congressional election in order to retake the House majority from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the Democrats. There are 30 districts currently represented by Democrats that Trump won in 2016 and another 20 districts, roughly, that Republicans believe are competitive this cycle.

Putting a focus on policy solutions for Americans — as the president has — could help Republicans contrast their push to help the country with Democrats’ efforts to undermine economic — and other wins — for voters out of partisan spite of Trump.





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California governor rejects PG&E bankruptcy reorganization plan


(Reuters) – California Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday rejected a bankruptcy reorganization plan submitted by PG&E Corp (PCG.N), the state’s largest investor-owned utility, saying its proposal fails to meet the requirements of a recently enacted wildfire law.

The decision by Newsom, sent to PG&E in a letter, complicates the company’s push to exit bankruptcy and provide billions of dollars to victims of devastating wildfires in 2017 and 2018 sparked by the utility’s power lines.

The embattled utility now has until Tuesday to further amend its plan to Newsom’s satisfaction, but his criticism of the reorganization package as it was presented by PG&E a day earlier was sweeping.

Newsom said the plan lacks “major changes in governance” and tougher safety enforcement mechanisms mandated under the state wildfire statute, known as Assembly Bill 1054, which was enacted in July.

The governor also said PG&E’s plan, including a proposed $13.5 billion settlement with victims of wildfires blamed on its power lines, would leave the company with a weakened capital structure and “limited ability to withstand future financial and operational headwinds.”

“In my judgment, the amended plan and the restructuring transactions do not result in a reorganized company positioned to provide safe, reliable and affordable service to its customers, as required by AB 1054,” Newsom wrote.

PG&E, in a statement after release of the governor’s letter, disputed Newsom’s findings that its reorganization plan fails to live up to the criteria of the wildfire law.

“We believe it does and is the best course forward for all stakeholders,” the company said. “We’ve welcomed feedback from all stakeholders throughout these proceedings and will continue to work diligently in the coming days to resolve any issues that may arise.”

State approval of reorganization plan is a necessary step before PG&E can submit the proposal for a vote by creditors and final approval from a bankruptcy judge in San Francisco.

FILE PHOTO: PG&E works on power lines to repair damage caused by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

PG&E filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January citing projected civil liabilities in excess of $30 billion from wind-driven blazes in 2017 and 2018 sparked by its equipment. Those included a wildfire last year that killed 85 people and destroyed the town of Paradise, ranking as California’s deadliest wildfire on record.

BLACKOUTS FOR SAFETY

In recent months, PG&E resorted to widespread power shut-offs that left hundreds of thousands of its customers without electricity for days at a time during periods of extremely high winds and dry conditions.

But the blackouts enraged consumers, regulators and politicians, including Newsom, who accused PG&E of failing through greed and mismanagement to invest in proper maintenance and upgrades of its power system over the years.

PG&E has denied putting profits ahead of public safety but acknowledged it needed to do a better job of protecting the grid from fire hazards.

Newsom had floated the idea of a state takeover of the utility if it failed to satisfy his demands, and has insisted that whatever entity emerges from bankruptcy must be “completely transformed” and more accountable.

The governor’s finding that PG&E’s reorganization plan must comply with the new law, AB 1054, is a prerequisite for the utility’s proposed civil settlement with wildfire victims.

The law creates a wildfire liability fund that investor-owned utilities can access for wildfire claims, provided the utilities contribute toward the fund and make a combined $5 billion, five-year investment toward improvement in their electrical grids.

To participate in the fund, PG&E must exit bankruptcy by June 30, putting intense pressure on the utility to resolve its complicated Chapter 11 quickly.

FILE PHOTO: California governor Gavin Newsom speaks at a news conference in San Diego, California, U.S. October 9, 2019. REUTERS/ Mike Blake

Prior to its $13.5 billion deal with victims, the company recently reached an $11 billion settlement with insurance companies and a $1 billion settlement with local governments for fire losses.

Bondholders led by Elliott Management opposed the reorganization plan championed by PG&E. However, the $13.5 billion compensation package agreed to by the utility – more generous than expected – makes it much more difficult for bondholders to upend PG&E’s plans.

Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware, and Steve Gorman in Culver City, Calif.; Editing by David Gregorio, Bill Tarrant and Sandra Maler

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



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