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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Clinton Leaves California Hospital

(Reuters) - Former U.S. President Bill Clinton walked out of a Southern California hospital early Sunday morning accompanied by his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, after being admitted last week for a urological infection, live video showed.

Clinton, 75, had been in California for an event for the Clinton Foundation and was treated at the University of California Irvine Medical Center's intensive care unit after suffering from fatigue and being admitted on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Editing by Nick Zieminski)

Film And TV Craft Workers Set Tentative Deal, Averting Strike

By Lisa Richwine and Bhargav Acharya

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A union that represents about 60,000 behind-the-scenes workers in film and television reached a tentative deal with producers on Saturday, averting a strike that threatened to cause widespread disruption in Hollywood, negotiators said.

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), which includes camera operators, make-up artists, sound technicians and others, said negotiators agreed to a new three-year contract.

"This is a Hollywood ending," Matthew Loeb, president of the union, said in an emailed statement. "Our members stood firm. They're tough and united."

Shutdowns from the COVID-19 pandemic had caused a production backlog that led to crews working up to 14 hours a day to feed programming to streaming services.

The union had threatened to strike starting Monday if it was unable to reach an agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

A strike would have shut down film and television production around the United States in the biggest stoppage since the 2007-2008 strike by Hollywood screenwriters. It would have hit a wide range of media companies including Netflix Inc, Walt Disney Co., and Comcast Corp.

IATSE was seeking to reduce working hours and raise the pay of members who work on shows for streaming platforms, where lower rates were set 10 years ago when online video was in its infancy.

IATSE, in its statement, said the proposed contract addresses those issues, including rest periods, meal breaks, a living wage for those on the bottom of the pay scale, and significant increases in compensation to be paid by new-media companies.

The new labor agreement is subject to approval by IATSE's membership.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine and Bhargav Acharya; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Senate Votes To Raise Debt Ceiling, Averting Catastrophic Default

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Legislation to raise the U.S. federal borrowing authority by $480 billion and avoid possible catastrophic debt defaults later this month drew enough support in the Senate on Thursday -- including 11 Republican votes -- to advance toward passage.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Makini Brice, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)

House Panel Probing January 6 Capitol Riot Issues New Subpoenas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives Select Committee investigating the deadly January 6 riot at the Capitol said on Thursday it had issued more subpoenas seeking testimony and records related to a rally that took place the day mobs of former President Donald Trump's supporters stormed the seat of the U.S. government.

The subpoenas are the latest in a series issued by the committee probing the insurrection, which left a handful of people dead and then-Vice President Mike Pence and lawmakers fleeing in fear of their lives.

They seek deposition testimony from Ali Abdul Akbar, also known as Ali Alexander, and Nathan Martin, who are connected to permit applications for the rally, and request the production of records from those individuals and from Stop the Steal LLC, an organization affiliated with the rally, the committee said.

Alexander is a far-right activist who helped organize the "Stop the Steal" movement opposing Trump's defeat in the 2020 presidential election. Martin is a city councilman from Shelby, Ohio.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Wall Street Watches As Senate Haggles Over Debt Ceiling 'Truce'

(Reuters) - An apparent truce in the U.S. debt-ceiling standoff in Congress has offered some relief to Wall Street investors on edge about a possible debt default, but analysts are left assessing the risk of a repeat crisis as the year closes out.

The heads of major banks and financial institutions warned lawmakers of catastrophe if the debt ceiling was not raised before Oct. 18, the date the government expects to run out of cash, leading to a default on its debt.

A plan floated by U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday would extend the borrowing limit into December -- providing respite but no long-term solution.

"There will be many proposals, trial balloons and negotiations going on to resolve this issue," said S&P Global Ratings' lead U.S. sovereign credit analyst Joydeep Mukherji in an email on Wednesday, adding that S&P's view on the U.S. underlying credit rating has not changed.

Mukherji in a recent interview said the scenario of the AA-plus U.S. credit rating plummeting to D due to a default was "crazy, almost difficult, impossible to imagine it."

Markets reacted positively to news of a potential, though temporary solution on Wednesday, with stocks rising and Treasury yields falling.

"Two months seems like plenty of time and (we) think the debt ceiling would be raised through reconciliation by then and do not expect to experience the past week come December," NatWest analysts wrote in a research note on Wednesday.

Republicans said Democrats could use the intervening weeks to pass a longer debt-ceiling extension through a complex process called reconciliation, which would allow Democrats to marshal their razor-thin majority in the Senate to approve the measure without any Republican support.

Goldman Sachs analysts wrote on Wednesday that the ultimate outcome may be "what had seemed like the most likely outcome all along, which is that Democrats use the reconciliation process to increase the debt limit just before the deadline" after exhausting all other options.

Even so, there are serious risks for President Joe Biden and his fellow Democrats.

Under the temporary extension plan, Democrats would have to address the debt ceiling issue again in December, just as another federal government shutdown looms. That could complicate their efforts to pass two massive spending bills that make up much of Biden's domestic agenda.

Mike O'Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading, wrote in a note to clients that he expected McConnell to "continue to grant limited debt limit extensions right through the (2022) mid-term elections if the lack of urgency continues to slow the Democrats' reconciliation spending bill.

The stakes are high if a solution is not reached.

Financial risk firm Moody's Analytics, which is a separate entity from Moody's Investors Service, said a default would be a "catastrophic blow" to the U.S. economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and upend global financial markets.

Moody's Analytics noted that an inadvertent missed Treasury bill payment in 1979 caused bill yields to spike 60 basis points and remain elevated for several months at the cost of tens of billions of dollars. The 1979 technical default https://www.reuters.com/article/usa-debt-default/factbox-the-day-the-u-s-defaulted-idUSN1E76A0XA20110711 was blamed on check-processing glitches.

The major credit rating agencies do not expect the U.S. will default. Still, Mukherji and his counterpart at Fitch Ratings in recent research and interviews said a default, including a temporary or so-called technical one, on any Treasury bill, note or bond payment would push the country's respective ratings of AA-plus and AAA down to D.

Moody's Investors Service, which rates the U.S. Aaa with a stable outlook, said it saw a "limited" impact on the country's rating in the case of a default and would likely downgrade the rating for all U.S. Treasury securities and keep it on review until it was clear "a cure would happen."

Even without a default, if a solution is not in hand to avoid a cash crunch the United States risks losing another of its triple-A ratings. S&P famously cut the rating a notch to AA-plus on Aug. 5, 2011, in the wake of a round of political wrangling over the country's debt.

Major financial institutions have considered the United States an AA-plus-rated credit since October 2020, down from AAA where it stood since 2017, according to David Carruthers, head of research at Credit Benchmark, a financial data and analytics company that collates the internal credit risk views of more than 40 institutions around the world, including 15 global systemically important banks.

Mukherji in an interview last week said that a U.S. default on a debt payment would be highly unusual as it would be a result of politics and not economic woes. Still, at the end of the day it's the same thing.

"If you don't pay, it really doesn't matter what the reason was -- you are in default."

(Reporting by Karen Pierog; editing by Megan Davies and Leslie Adler)

Federal Judge Blocks Enforcement Of Texas Abortion Law

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked a near-total ban on abortion in Texas - the toughest such law in the country - in a challenge brought by President Joe Biden's administration after the U.S. Supreme Court had allowed it to go into effect.

The action by U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman in Austin prevents the state from enforcing the Republican-backed law, which prohibits women from obtaining an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, while litigation over its legality continues. The case is part of a fierce legal battle over abortion access in the United States, with numerous state pursuing restrictions.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Will Dunham and Jonathan Oatis)

Florida Man Pleads Guilty To Assaulting Police At Capitol On Jan. 6

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Florida man who assaulted police officers with a wooden plank and a fire extinguisher at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 pleaded guilty to assault charges on Monday, the Justice Department said.

Robert Scott Palmer, 54, of Largo, is one of at least 185 people charged with assaulting or impeding police on January 6, as throngs of former Republican President Donald Trump's supporters stormed the Capitol in a failed bid to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden's election victory.

Prosecutors say Palmer threw the wooden plank at Capitol and Washington, D.C. police while they were protecting the lower west terrace entrance, and later sprayed a fire extinguisher at police officers until it was empty.

He then threw the fire extinguisher at the officers.

Palmer is one of more than 600 people facing charges in connection with the January 6 riots.

He will be sentenced on December 17, and faces a statutory maximum of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Overwhelming Success For Vaccine Mandates Despite Handful Of Resignations, Firings

By Peter Szekely and Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Jennifer Bridges loved her job as a nurse at Houston Methodist Hospital, where she worked for eight years, but she chose to get fired rather than inoculated against COVID-19, believing that the vaccine was more of a threat than the deadly virus.

Bridges was among about 150 employees who were fired or resigned rather than comply with the requirement at Methodist, which was the country's first large health system to mandate vaccinations. About 25,000 other employees at the hospital system complied.

"I have never felt so strong about anything," said Bridges, 39, who lives in Houston. She was terminated from her $70,000 per year post on June 21, the deadline for employees to get a jab. "I did not feel there was proper research in this shot. It had been developed very quickly."

Houston Methodist is one of a growing number of private employers that have made vaccinations a requirement of the job. New York and California are among the states that have required vaccinations for healthcare workers.

Mandates have proven to be effective in boosting vaccination rates in healthcare. In New York, for example, Governor Kathy Hochul on Thursday said 92 percent of the state's more than 625,000 healthcare workers were inoculated, up from 73 percent on August 16 when former Governor Andrew Cuomo laid down a September 27 deadline for vaccinations.

Then-Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said the mandate would "help close the vaccination gap" and reduce the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.

Even so, there are pockets of resistance in the healthcare field. Those interviewed by Reuters said they had been immunized for other diseases, but said a lack of long-term data on the three COVID vaccines available in the United States was reason enough for them to step into an uncertain future after years of job security.

Speaking in support of the vaccines available in the United States, medical experts have said they had received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration in less than a year, instead of the usual several years, due to factors including ample funding and test subjects, piggybacking off earlier research, and international collaboration.

'Slap In My Face'

Many of the workers who walked away had enough financial wherewithal to allow them to stick to their convictions.

For Bridges, the high demand for nurses meant she could refuse the shot without sacrificing financial security. On the same day she was fired by Methodist, she started training for her next job at a private nursing company that has no vaccine mandate.

Nurse Katie Yarber also found a job after leaving Houston Methodist but only after going 12 weeks without a paycheck and depleting "a big chunk" of her savings. Still, she said she does not regret her decision to depart after 14 years of service.

Yarber, 35, said she would not get the vaccine because of her religious convictions, a stance that the hospital rejected. She is also wary of possible long-term side effects.

"I kind of felt like it was a slap in my face," said Yarber, who began working at the hospital as a medical records clerk before earning a nursing degree. "I went to work, I did my job, I did it with a smile. I was a really good employee."

Yarber, who said she has already had COVID, is now a work-from-home nurse case manager. She had a brief stint at Texas Children's Hospital but that ended when it too required vaccinations.

Carolyn Euart is one of about 175 workers dismissed last Monday after refusing vaccinations at Novant Health, a North Carolina hospital network. She is now considering a new career.

With 24 years as a patient services coordinator, Euart, 56, had planned to retire from Novant, but is now exploring opening a dessert restaurant and sweet shop.

After battling cancer since 2008, she felt the risk of a vaccine was greater than COVID, which four of her family members have had.

"I needed the job, but I didn't think that my job was worth my life," she said.

A Novant spokeswoman said on Tuesday that 99 percent of its more than 35,000 employees have been vaccinated against coronavirus.

Nationally, more than 77 percent of adults have received at least one vaccine dose, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The country's COVID death toll has surpassed 700,000, according to a Reuters tally.

In upstate New York, Andrew Kurtyko said he is ready to be fired from his $90,000 nursing job at Mount St. Mary's Hospital in Lewiston for refusing the shot. He knows he could earn more by working as a "travel nurse," taking temporary jobs around the country.

"Certainly with my years of experience, I'm pretty marketable," said Kurtyko, 47, a divorced father of a college student who has a mortgage to pay.

Like some other medical workers, Kurtyko questions the efficacy and safety of the vaccines. He is also seeking a religious exemption from the Catholic Hospital. If he is denied, he expects to lose his job on October12.

Bob Nevens, 47, Houston Methodist's top risk manager for 10 years, also prefers to take his chances with COVID over a vaccine. As a consequence, he became one of the country's first workplace mandate casualties in April.

Besides a lack of long-term data, Nevens said he refused Methodist's mandate because it did not acknowledge "natural immunity" for those who had already contracted COVID and because vaccine manufacturers are shielded from liability.

He said he was not worried about money.

"Financially, I'm fine," he said. "Mentally, it's exhausting, because I didn't want to make that decision. I had planned on retiring from Houston Methodist."

(Reporting by Peter Szekely and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Frank McGurty and Daniel Wallis)

'Abort Abbott': Texas Rally Launches Wave Of Pro-Choice Protests

By Richard Webner and Julia Harte

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) -Women's rights advocates gathered at the Texas Capitol on Saturday to protest against the country's most restrictive abortion law, launching a series of 660 marches around the United States in support of reproductive freedom.

A crowd of more than 1,000 protesters assembled in sweltering heat in front of the building where lawmakers earlier this year passed a measure that bans abortions after about six weeks, which Governor Greg Abbott later signed.

"Abort Abbott" appeared on several of the demonstrators' signs and T-shirts, while others sported the Texas state slogan, "Come and Take It" next to a drawing of a uterus.

"Our vision for Texas is still rugged and resilient," Ann Howard, a commissioner of Travis County, which includes Austin, told the crowd. "But it's also open and inclusive and compassionate. Our Texas safeguards individual freedoms."

In Washington, D.C., protesters were set to march to the U.S. Supreme Court two days before the court reconvenes for a session in which the justices will consider a Mississippi case that could enable them to overturn abortion rights established in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case.

In a 5-4 decision on September 1, the justices denied a request from abortion and women's health providers to block enforcement of the near-total ban in Texas.

"This is kind of a break-glass moment for folks all across the country," Rachel O'Leary Carmona, executive director of Women's March, said before most of the demonstrations that the group organized got under way.

"Many of us grew up with the idea that abortion would be legal and accessible for all of us, and seeing that at very real risk has been a moment of awakening," she said.

Carmona said the number of marches scheduled for Saturday is second only to the group's first protest, which mobilized millions of people around the world to rally against former President Donald Trump the day after his inauguration in 2017.

The coast-to-coast marches were set to include not only Austin, but other cities in Texas, a flashpoint in the nation's battle over abortion rights.

The state's so-called "heartbeat" law, which went into effect on Sept. 1, bans abortion after cardiac activity is detected in the embryo, usually around six weeks. That is before most women know they are pregnant and earlier than 85% to 90% of all abortions are carried out, experts say.

Texas also lets ordinary citizens enforce the ban, rewarding them at least $10,000 if they successfully sue anyone who helped provide an illegal abortion.

In the month since the law was enacted, hundreds of women in Texas have driven to other states for abortions, while others have sought abortion-inducing pills by mail or visited "crisis pregnancy centers" that encourage women not to get abortions. Abortion clinics are struggling to survive as patient visits decline and some staff quit.

Abortion rights advocates and the U.S. Justice Department have challenged the law in state and federal courts, arguing that it violates Roe v. Wade.

A federal judge in Austin on Friday heard the Justice Department's request https://www.reuters.com/world/us/biden-administration-urge-halt-strict-texas-abortion-law-2021-10-01 to block the law temporarily while its constitutionality is challenged.

(Reporting by Richard Webner in Austin and Julia Harte in New York; Writing by Peter Szekely; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Daniel Wallis)

Exclusive: White House Agrees To Boost Carbon Capture In Budget Bill

By Jarrett Renshaw and Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House and top Democratic lawmakers have agreed to boost a tax credit for industrial carbon capture projects in a deal that could help solidify support for the budget reconciliation bill at the heart of President Joe Biden's economic agenda, two sources with knowledge of the matter said.

The agreement worked out by White House officials and lawmakers, including Senators Ron Wyden and Sheldon Whitehouse, and some of their counterparts in the House, would raise the so-called 45-Q tax credit for carbon capture projects in heavy industry, such as cement and steel plants, to $85 per metric ton. It would also waive requirements that plants must capture a certain percentage of carbon to be eligible.

The White House and the senators did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In carbon capture projects, industrial plants add pipes and other heavy equipment to siphon off carbon dioxide emissions for permanent storage underground before they have the chance reach the atmosphere and make climate change worse.

But carbon capture is expensive to build and certify and many projects, such as Petra Nova in Texas, have stopped operations in recent years.

Current 45-Q tax credits allow polluting plants to claim $50 per ton of carbon dioxide they sequester and $35 a ton for projects where carbon is captured and then used to push more crude oil from aging oilfields.

The agreement does not yet cover the power sector, which includes coal and natural gas plants, a huge source of carbon dioxide emissions. Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate from large coal producing state West Virginia, has pushed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to allow coal and natural gas burning power plants to get incentives for carbon capture in the reconciliation bill.

Discussions are progressing on boosting the carbon capture credit for power plants, the sources said.

(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw and Timothy Gardner; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Yellen: Debt Default Would 'Permanently' Weaken America

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen issued a fresh plea for Congress to raise the federal debt ceiling on Sunday, arguing a default on U.S. debt would trigger a historic financial crisis.

In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece , Yellen said that the crisis triggered by a default would compound the damage from the continuing coronavirus pandemic, roiling markets and plunging the U.S. economy back into recession at the cost of millions of jobs and a lasting hike in interest rates.

"We would emerge from this crisis a permanently weaker nation," Yellen said, noting that U.S. creditworthiness has been a strategic advantage.

Yellen did not offer a new timeline for a possible default, but described economic damage that would fall on consumers through higher borrowing costs and lower asset prices.

She has said previously that a default could come during October when the Treasury exhausts its cash reserves and extraordinary borrowing capacity under the $28.4 trillion debt limit.

"We can borrow more cheaply than almost any other country, and defaulting would jeopardize this enviable fiscal position. It would also make America a more expensive place to live, as the higher cost of borrowing would fall on consumers," Yellen wrote. "Mortgage payments, car loans, credit card bills—everything that is purchased with credit would be costlier after default."

Republicans have refused to support raising or suspending the $28.4 billion. Senator Bill Cassidy from Louisiana said earlier on NBC's "Meet the Press" program that Democrats want to increase the borrowing cap to fund trillions of dollars in "Democratic wish list" spending.

Yellen argued the debt ceiling is about paying for past spending obligations, and said waiting too long to lift the debt ceiling can still cause damage, citing a 2011 debt ceiling crisis that pushed the federal government to the brink of default that prompted a credit rating downgrade.

"This led to financial-market disruptions that persisted for months. Time is money here, potentially billions of dollars. Neither delay nor default is tolerable."

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a statement, cited Yellen's past remarks on the issue and noted that Congress addressed the debt ceiling on a bipartisan basis three times during the Trump administration.

"When we take up the debt limit this month, we expect it to be bipartisan once more," Pelosi said.

Still, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn on Sunday that Democrats may have to pass the debt ceiling hike without Republican support.

"I think we ought to do what's necessary and message to the American people exactly who is trying to destroy this great democracy that we hope to keep in place," he told CNN.

(Reporting by David Lawder and David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Diane Craft and Daniel Wallis)

In Debt-Limit Impasse, Federal Reserve Will 'Come Out Swinging'

By Ann Saphir

(Reuters) -Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says failure to raise the U.S. debt limit could lead to the unthinkable: a default on government payment obligations. That's an outcome the White House on Friday warned could plunge the economy into recession.

If the impasse in Congress over the $28.5 trillion debt limit isn't resolved before an October deadline, what would the Federal Reserve - the backstop for U.S. financial markets as the lender of last resort - be prepared to do?

As it turns out, Fed Chair Jerome Powell may already have something of a game plan. The country faced a similar crisis over the debt limit in 2011 and again two years later, and at an unscheduled October 2013 meeting, Fed policymakers - including Powell, who was then a Fed governor, and Yellen, who was the Fed's vice chair - debated possible actions in response.

'Loathsome' was how Powell described some of the most aggressive options contemplated, transcripts show, though he was among those who said they might be needed in the face of what could be a drastic market catastrophe

The plan included a process for managing government payments, given the Fed's expectation that Treasury would prioritize principal and interest but would make day-by-day decisions on whether to cover other obligations.

Changes to the Fed's supervision of banks were also planned. Banks would be allowed to count defaulted Treasuries toward risk-capital requirements, and supervisors would work directly with any bank experiencing a "temporary drop in its regulatory capital ratio." The U.S. central bank would also direct lenders to give leeway to stressed borrowers.

Policymakers also mapped out approaches to managing market strains and financial stability risks stemming from a technical default.

They readily agreed to some measures, including expanding ongoing bond purchases to include defaulted Treasuries, lending against defaulted securities and through the Fed's emergency lending window, and conducting repurchase operations to stabilize short-term financial markets.

Other actions sketched out in briefing notes and during the meeting were more controversial, including providing direct support to financial markets buying defaulted Treasury securities, or simultaneously selling Treasuries that are not in default and buying ones that are.

It was those last actions that Powell described as "loathsome," while others referred to them as "repugnant" and "beyond the pale." The issue, transcripts suggest, was the worry that such purchases could be seen as crossing a line into direct financing of government.

"The economics of it are right, but you'd be stepping into this difficult political world and looking like you are making the problem go away," Powell said at the time.

A larger number of policymakers, including Yellen and John Williams, who at the time was San Francisco Fed president and is now head of the New York Fed, felt that such an intervention ought to be part of the U.S. central bank's response if needed. Even Powell agreed it might need to be "under certain circumstances."

Congress resolved the debt limit impasse in 2013 and the Fed never had to activate its game plan. Since then it has managed through a number of crises, including the coronavirus pandemic, to which it responded aggressively and with never-before-used tools like purchases of municipal debt. "We crossed a lot of red lines that had not been crossed before," Powell said in an interview in May 2020.

Analysts say that the Fed helped stave off a financial crisis and an even worse economic downturn.

Christopher Russo, a post-graduate research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, says the Fed's experience may color how it responds to future crises.

"The lesson learned is: if they are going to do something, come out swinging," he said.

(Reporting by Ann SaphirEditing by Paul Simao)

Exclusive: US And EU Seek Global Deal To Slash Planet-Warming Methane

By Kate Abnett and Valerie Volcovici

BRUSSELS/WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States and the European Union have agreed to aim to cut emissions of the planet-warming gas methane by around a third by the end of this decade and are pushing other major economies to join them, according to documents seen by Reuters.

Their pact comes as Washington and Brussels seek to galvanize other major economies ahead of a world summit to address climate change in Glasgow, Scotland, in November, and could have a significant impact on the energy, agriculture and waste industries responsible for the bulk of methane emissions.

The greenhouse gas methane, the biggest cause of climate change after carbon dioxide (CO2), is facing more scrutiny as governments seek solutions to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, a goal of the Paris climate agreement.

In an attempt to jumpstart the action, the United States and the EU later this week will make a joint pledge to reduce human-caused methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030, compared with 2020 levels, according to a draft of the Global Methane Pledge seen by Reuters.

"The short atmospheric lifetime of methane means that taking action now can rapidly reduce the rate of global warming," the draft said.

A separate document listed over two dozen countries that the United States and the EU will target to join the pledge. They include major emitters such as China, Russia, India, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia, as well as others including Norway, Qatar, Britain, New Zealand, and South Africa.

The State Department declined to comment and the European Commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the documents.

The agreement would likely be unveiled on Friday at a meeting of major emitting economies intended to rally support ahead of the COP26 Glasgow summit.

World leaders are under pressure from scientists, environmental advocates and growing popular sentiment to commit to more ambitious action to curb climate change in Glasgow.

Methane has a higher heat-trapping potential than CO2 but it breaks down in the atmosphere faster, so "strong, rapid and sustained reductions" in methane emissions in addition to slashing CO2 emissions can have a climate impact quickly, a fact emphasized by a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last month.

Experts say the fossil fuel sector has the biggest potential to cut methane emissions this decade by mending leaky pipelines or gas storage facilities, and many of those fixes can be done at a low cost.

Yet satellite images and infrared footage have in recent years revealed methane emissions spewing out of oil and gas sites in countries including the EU, Mexico, and the United States.

The United States and EU are both due to propose laws this year to restrict methane emissions.

The U.S.-EU pledge would cover key sources of methane emissions, including leaky oil and gas infrastructure, old coal mines, agriculture and waste such as landfills, the draft said.

Countries that join the pledge would commit to take domestic action to collectively achieve the target methane cut, "focusing on standards to achieve all feasible reductions in the energy and waste sectors" and reducing agricultural emissions through "technology innovation as well as incentives and partnerships with farmers," it said.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Leslie Adler, and Sonya Hepinstall)

U.N. Seeks $600 Million Aid As Taliban  Afghanistan Plunges Into Humanitarian Crisis

By Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations is convening an aid conference in Geneva on Monday in an effort to raise more than $600 million for Afghanistan, warning of a humanitarian crisis there following the Taliban takeover.

Even before the Taliban's seizure of Kabul last month, half the population - or 18 million people - was dependent on aid. That figure looks set to increase due to drought and shortages of cash and food, U.N. officials and aid groups warn.

An abrupt end to billions of dollars in foreign donations following the collapse of Afghanistan's Western-backed government and the ensuing victory of the Taliban has heaped more pressure on U.N. programs.

Yet U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says his organization is struggling financially: "At the present moment the U.N. is not even able to pay its salaries to its own workers," he told reporters on Friday.

The Geneva conference, due to begin on Monday afternoon, will be attended by top U.N. officials including Guterres, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross Peter Maurer, as well as dozens of government representatives including German foreign minister Heiko Maas.

About a third of the $606 million being sought would be used by the U.N. World Food Program, which found that 93 percent of the 1,600 Afghans it surveyed in August and September were not consuming sufficient foods, mostly because they could not get access to cash to pay for it.

"It's now a race against time and the snow to deliver life-saving assistance to the Afghan people who need it most," said WFP deputy regional director Anthea Webb. "We are quite literally begging and borrowing to avoid food stocks running out."

The World Health Organization, another U.N. agency that's part of the appeal, is seeking to shore up hundreds of health facilities at risk of closure after donors backed out.

(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Pravin Char)

FBI Releases First Declassified 9/11 Document After Biden Order

By Aakriti Bhalla and Mark Hosenball

(Reuters) -The FBI has released a newly declassified document related to its investigation of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and allegations of Saudi government support for the hijackers, following an executive order by President Joe Biden.

The partially redacted 16-page document released by the FBI on the 20th anniversary of the attacks, detailed contacts between the hijackers and several Saudi officials, but it did not draw a definitive conclusion whether the government in Riyadh was complicit in the attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people.

Earlier this month, Biden ordered the Department of Justice to review documents from the FBI's probe into the attacks for declassification and release.

Relatives of the victims have been pushing for years for more information about what the FBI discovered in its probe and have contended that the documents would show Saudi Arabian authorities supported the plot.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom has long said it had no role in the attacks. The Saudi embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment sent out of hours late on Saturday.

A U.S. government commission in 2004 found no evidence that Saudi Arabia directly funded al Qaeda, the group given safe haven by the Taliban in Afghanistan at the time. It left open whether individual Saudi officials might have.

The families of roughly 2,500 of those killed in the attacks, and more than 20,000 people who suffered injuries, businesses and various insurers, have sued Saudi Arabia seeking billions of dollars.

In a statement issued on September 8, the embassy said Saudi Arabia has always advocated for transparency around the events of September 11, 2001, and welcomes the release by the United States of classified documents relating to the attacks.

"As past investigations have revealed, including the 9/11 Commission and the release of the so-called '28 Pages,' no evidence has ever emerged to indicate that the Saudi government or its officials had previous knowledge of the terrorist attack or were in any way involved," the embassy's statement said.

In a statement on behalf of the organization 9/11 Families United, Terry Strada, whose husband Tom was killed on September 11, said the document released by the FBI on Saturday put to bed any doubts about Saudi complicity in the attacks.

"Now the Saudis' secrets are exposed and it is well past time for the Kingdom to own up to its officials' roles in murdering thousands on American soil," the statement said.

Biden has taken a tougher stance with Saudi Arabia than his predecessor Donald Trump, criticizing the kingdom over its human rights record while releasing a U.S. intelligence report implicating the its de-facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in the 2018 killing of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The prince denies any involvement.

(Reporting by Aakriti Bhalla in Bengaluru and Mark Hosenball in Washington; Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Daniel Wallis)