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Sunday, July 31, 2022

How Effective Are COVID Tests at Detecting the New Variant?

How Effective Are COVID Tests at Detecting the New Variant?

“BA.5 is making a lot of people sick right now. Will the home tests measure up?

A hand holding an at-home COVID-19 test strip against a bright red background
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

BA.5 is leading another wave of COVID-19 cases, as well as a rise in hospitalizations. The subvariant of omicron is extremely contagious and is causing more reinfections in people who've already been sick with COVID-19, including during earlier omicron waves. 

But are the at-home rapid tests we've come to rely on (and have even gotten shipped to our homes) able to detect BA.5? 

While it's possible new research could come out and prove that BA.5 makes some tests less effective at picking up positive COVID-19 cases, the rapid tests seem to be doing their jobs. Here's what to know. 

How do home COVID tests work? 

At-home COVID-19 tests are usually rapid antigen tests, which work by identifying proteins in the coronavirus. If the proteins are present in your nose when you swab it, there will be a second line on your test, and you should consider yourself positive and contagious with COVID-19. This is similar to how a home pregnancy test works, but pregnancy tests pick up the presence of a hormone instead of a virus. (And pregnancy isn't contagious, of course.) 

"Positive results remain highly accurate for these tests, though there still can be false negatives," Shaili Gandhi, vice president of pharmacy at SingleCare, said in an email. This is because it takes a higher amount of virus to test positive on a rapid test than the highly sensitive PCR or lab-based tests. Someone who's fully vaccinated and boosted, for example, may have a very low viral load (smaller amount of virus) and that may mean they test negative even if they do have COVID-19. If that's the case, you might need a lab-based PCR test before COVID-19 is confirmed. (That doesn't mean you shouldn't use a home test if you're boosted, though, but more on that below.)

Read more: Put Down That Cloth Mask. These Are The Best Masks to Help Avoid COVID

A young woman dips a nasal swab into a tube for a COVID test

Many of us are familiar with the swab, dip, swirl and drip method of testing for COVID-19.

Tang Ming Tung/Getty Images

Do home tests work against BA.5? When's the best time to test? 

Research continues on BA.5, which includes how effective tests are at detecting it, according to Gandhi. But how well the home COVID-19 tests work may have less to do with the subvariant and more to do with when you test. 

You're most likely to test positive for COVID-19 when you have symptoms. Similarly, asymptomatic people or someone with mild symptoms might be more likely to have a false negative result than someone who has a lot of symptoms. 

"Under these conditions, at-home tests are as effective at detecting omicron as with other variants," Sandra Adams, a professor of biology and virologist at Montclair State University, told New Jersey Advance Media

"The accuracy varies with when the tests are taken," she added.

Gandhi said a "good rule of thumb" is to take at least two tests, with a day or two between tests. You should also follow the instructions on whatever box you have, which often comes as a pack of two tests, and stay up-to-date on the US Food and Drug Administration's extension of the shelf lives of some home tests. 

And, if there are home tests discovered to not work against BA.5, the FDA will remove its authorization of that particular test. 

"The FDA would know if there are performance concerns because they continue to monitor all authorized tests and scientific evidence over a period of time in the event that they need to make changes," Dr. Mark Fischer, Regional Medical Director at International SOS, said in an email.

What's BA.5's incubation period? 

At the beginning of the omicron surge in December last year, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its quarantine guidance based on the understanding people were most contagious with COVID-19 in the one or two days before they developed symptoms, and two to three days after. 

While some research suggests BA.5 doesn't have a different incubation period than other versions of COVID-19, some people are reporting testing positive for longer, Gandhi notes. Dr. Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research, noted in a report earlier this month that changes in BA.5 that make it easier to get into cells may explain why some people are taking a long time to test negative. 

"For now, while this new variant is still elusive, I recommend testing multiple times with at-home tests, and if symptoms persist [and you're still testing negative], get a PCR test from your pharmacy or doctor," Gandhi said. 

And, unfortunately, a positive result on a home rapid test in all likelihood means you have COVID-19. So consider yourself contagious and follow the CDC's guidelines for isolation and masking.

Correction at 8:03 a.m. PT July 26: The spelling of Shaili Gandhi's last name has been fixed.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.“

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‘Not enough shots’: U.S. faces ‘vaccine cliff’ on monkeypox

‘Not enough shots’: U.S. faces ‘vaccine cliff’ on monkeypox

“As many as 1 million high-risk men may be unable to get two Jynneos doses for months

Monkeypox vaccines shown at the Salt Lake County Health Department in Salt Lake City on Thursday. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Federal officials this week touted the arrival of hundreds of thousands of additional monkeypox vaccine doses, heralding it as a milestone in the nation’s fight against the outbreak. What they left out: The United States is entering a critical three-month period where cases may continue to multiply, but no more vaccines are scheduled to arrive until October at the earliest.

Even with the latest shipments, there are only enough vials of the two-dose Jynneos vaccine to cover about a third of the estimated 1.6 million gay and bisexual men who officials consider at highest risk and who are being urged to get the shots.

And with cases in the United States doubling every week or so, some health experts warn a shortfall of vaccine doses could threaten the nation’s ability to contain the expanding outbreak and prevent the virus from becoming permanently entrenched — a concern that some federal officials privately concede.

“When you look mathematically at what the requirements are … we’re facing some tough sledding here,” J. Stephen Morrison, director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said on a podcast Friday, adding that 3.2 million doses would be needed to fully cover the at-risk population of HIV-positive men and others targeted to receive vaccinations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We’re not going to have, until year’s end, 2 million doses,” Morrison said.

The shortfall of Jynneos, the only vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration to protect against monkeypox, has health officials at every level of government scrambling to come up with strategies. Those in hard-hit communities like New York City and D.C. have opted to give out only one dose for now, against regulators’ advice, while pushing federal officials for larger allotments. Some experts also are advocating that people be encouraged to take a less desirable vaccine, ACAM2000, which was approved for the related virus of smallpox but not for monkeypox.

“There are not enough shots” to pursue a strategy of relying solely on Jynneos, said a federal official working on the monkeypox response, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment, warning of a possible “vaccine cliff” in coming weeks.

Nearly 5,200 people in the United States, mostly gay and bisexual men, have been diagnosed with monkeypox, which can spread through skin-to-skin contact, and causes fever, swollen glands, severe pain and lesions. Most experts believe that hundreds or thousands of cases likely remain undetected.

“We would expect cases to continue to go up in the next several days or weeks as testing has becoming more widely available,” a CDC spokesperson said Friday.

While the virus has yet to be linked to a single confirmed U.S. death, public health leaders continue to worry that it will become difficult to eradicate, especially if it spills back into rodents and other small mammals, which have helped drive transmission in Central and Western Africa.

U.S. officials said that they have now secured 1.1 million Jynneos vaccine doses, including 786,000 doses finally cleared by regulators after being delayed in Denmark for more than a month, and which will “be in the hands of people who need them over the course of the next several weeks,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said Thursday. Federal regulators reiterated Friday that the vaccine should be given to most people as a two-dose regimen, meaning that U.S. officials have enough shots to cover about 550,000 people.

But the total population that federal officials have used to calculate vaccine allocations — which includes people who have been exposed to someone with monkeypox, as well as men who have had multiple sexual partners within the past two weeks in areas of known monkeypox spread — is at least 1.6 million individuals and possibly higher, according to CDC.

Demand is also being driven by people seeking vaccination who may not fall into those categories but who are worried about possible exposures.

“Overall, there are not enough vaccine doses to meet demand right now and most jurisdictions are maxing out or exceeding their allocation and, in some cases, still unable to meet demand,” the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care think tank, concluded in an analysis Friday.

Should the outbreak spill over into other populations in coming weeks, and millions more Americans be encouraged to seek out vaccination, that shortfall would be even more pronounced. The first two cases were confirmed in children last week and in a pregnant woman this week. Prior outbreaks overseas have spread to children, women and other vulnerable groups.

“If we’re drifting into mass vaccination, that’s going to require huge volumes” of doses, said Morrison of CSIS.

Experts have struggled to accurately predict the course of the monkeypox outbreak, cautioning that limited testing had complicated efforts to get a true picture of the virus’s spread. Cases have been doubling about every 7.6 days in the United States, said Trevor Bedford, a computational biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center.

Seeking to curb local outbreaks, many state and local health officials have demanded as many Jynneos vaccine doses as possible, with the hardest hit states like California and New York repeatedly asking the federal government for more doses than officials say are available.

Biden administration officials have said they are working to secure more doses, noting they have also acquired raw materials for 11 million potential Jynneos doses.

“We don’t know what comes next and we need to be prepared for the spread into the larger population,” Dawn O’Connell, the assistant secretary who oversees the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response, said Thursday. But officials have said that it may take months to find a manufacturing partner to turn those raw materials into vaccine doses.

In addition to vaccination, the administration touts a multipronged strategy, including making testing and treatments accessible and informing high-risk communities how to protect themselves, that officials insist can help contain the outbreak.

“We will continue to look at ways to quickly get more vaccines out to populations across the country — but that’s just one part of our strategy,” White House spokesperson Chris Meagher said in a statement.

In the meantime, public health leaders in New York City and D.C. have said they will focus on giving out as many first doses of Jynneos as possible and forgo a second dose for now, in hopes of stretching limited vaccine supply as far as they can.

“DC Health has decided that the most urgent priority is providing the first doses of vaccine to high-risk residents,” the city health department said in a statementthis week. “This is extremely important because getting more individuals vaccinated with their first shot will help us to contain the virus.”

Federal officials on Friday reiterated that a two-dose strategy is necessary for sufficient protection.

“While the FDA understands the desire to get out as many doses as possible, the agency advises against departing from the product labeling,” a spokesperson said.

Amanda Jezek, senior vice president of public policy and government relations at the Infectious Diseases Society of America, said that local public health clinics are also working to target “underserved individuals,” since many of the earlier vaccine appointments were “snapped up” by disproportionately well-off people.

Some experts have called on U.S. officials to instead encourage Americans to get vaccinated with ACAM2000, which was approved for smallpox, a related virus, and that the United States had previously stockpiled in case of a potential outbreak. That vaccine relies on injecting people with a live, if weakened, virus, which carries additional risks. It also is administered in a series of rapid punctures that can draw blood and lead to scarring. The vaccine is available as needed, although public health officials have been wary of relying on it.

“No one’s crazy about it. You shouldn’t be crazy about it. But you should give people the choice,” said Ezekiel Emanuel, a bioethicist who has advised the Biden administration on coronavirus and attended a White House briefing this week on monkeypox.

Emanuel faulted health officials for not ordering more doses of Jynneos earlier in the outbreak, especially as other countries have moved to buy up doses. “I don’t know who was negotiating these deals,” he said. “It’s a serious problem.”

The next shipment of 500,000 Jynneos doses from Bavarian Nordic, the Denmark-based manufacturer, is not expected until the end of October amid heavy global demand, said two administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

“The 500,000 additional doses that the U.S. ordered in June is anticipated to be delivered this year,” a Bavarian Nordic spokesperson wrote in an email, declining to respond to specific questions about timing or the company’s commitments to other countries.

Sarah Lovenheim, an HHS spokeswoman, said officials had expedited the doses announced this week and were working to accelerate future shipments, too.

“We’ll seize every opportunity to speed up the path to secure more doses ahead of schedule, as possible,” Lovenheim said.

Peter Hotez, dean for the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, said he was open to the idea of “dose sharing” as a temporary fix, suggesting that people could get one dose of Jynneos and one dose of ACAM2000.

“We don’t have much of a window to fix this,” Hotez said. “Once it gets into the rodent population, it becomes a fixture here, like it’s been in Central and West Africa.”

Saturday, July 30, 2022

China's Catastrophic Oil & Gas Problem

New Rule: Let the Population Collapse | Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO)

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Mystery Of Missing January 6 Texts Widens

Homeland Security watchdog halted plan to recover Secret Service texts, records show

Homeland Security watchdog halted plan to recover Secret Service texts, records show

Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) talks on the phone as he heads to a meeting with members of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington on June 21. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
“Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) talks on the phone as he heads to a meeting with members of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington on June 21. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The Department of Homeland Security’s chief watchdog scrapped its investigative team’s effort to collect agency phones to try to recover deleted Secret Service texts this year, according to four people with knowledge of the decision and internal records reviewed by The Washington Post.

In early February, after learning that the Secret Service’s text messages had been erased as part of a migration to new devices, staff at Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari’s office planned to contact all DHS agencies offering to have data specialists help retrieve messages from their phones, according to two government whistleblowers who provided reports to Congress.

But later that month, Cuffari’s office decided it would not collect or review any agency phones, according to three people briefed on the decision.

The latest revelation comes as Democratic lawmakers have accused Cuffari’s office of failing to aggressively investigate the agency’s actions in response to the violent attack on the Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump on Jan. 6, 2021.

Cuffari wrote a letter to the House and Senate Homeland Security committees this month saying the Secret Service’s text messages from the time of the attack had been “erased.” But he did not immediately disclose that his office first discovered that deletion in December and failed to alert lawmakers or examine the phones. Nor did he alert Congress that other text messages were missing, including those of the two top Trump appointees running the Department of Homeland Security during the final days of the administration.

Late Friday night, Cuffari’s spokesman issued a statement declining to comment on the new discovery.

“To preserve the integrity of our work and consistent with U.S. Attorney General guidelines, DHS OIG does not confirm the existence of or otherwise comment about ongoing reviews or criminal investigations, nor do we discuss our communications with Congress,” the statement read.

Cuffari, a former adviser to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R), has been in his post since July 2019 after being nominated by Trump.

DHS spokeswoman Marsha Espinosa said the agency is cooperating with investigators and “looking into every avenue to recover text messages and other materials for the Jan. 6 investigations.”

After discovering that some of the text messages the watchdog sought had been deleted, the Federal Protective Service, a DHS agency that guards federal buildings, offered their phones to the inspector general’s investigators, saying they lacked the resources to recover lost texts and other records on their own, according to three people familiar with the plan who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive investigation.

A senior forensics analyst in the inspector general’s office took steps to collect the Federal Protective Service phones, the people said. But late on the night of Friday, Feb. 18, one of several deputies who report to Cuffari’s management team wrote an email to investigators instructing them not to take the phones and not to seek any data from them, according to a copy of an internal record that was shared with The Post.

Staff investigators also drafted a letter in late January and early February to all DHS agencies offering to help recover any text messages or other data that might have been lost. But Cuffari’s management team later changed that draft to say that if agencies could not retrieve phone messages for the Jan. 6 period, they “should provide a detailed list of unavailable data and the reason the information is unavailable,” the three people said.

Cuffari also learned in late February that text messages for the top two officials at DHS under the Trump administration on the day of the attack were missing, lost in a “reset” of their government phones when they left their jobs in January 2021, according to an internal record obtained by the Project on Government Oversight. But Cuffari did not press the department’s leadership to explain why they did not preserve these records, nor try to recover them, according to the four people briefed on the watchdog’s actions. Cuffari also did not alert Congress to the missing records.

These and other discrepancies prompted key Democrats scrutinizing the attack and the Department of Homeland Security to issue a subpoena to the Secret Service and to call for Cuffari to recuse himself from the investigation.

Reps. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), chair of the House Homeland Security Committee and the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, and Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), chair of the committee that oversees inspectors general, said in a letter to Cuffari on Tuesday that they “do not have confidence” that he can conduct the investigation.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued a statement Friday calling the missing messages “an extremely serious matter” and said he would ask the Justice Department to intervene.

“Inspector General Cuffari’s failure to take immediate action upon learning that these text messages had been deleted makes clear that he should no longer be entrusted with this investigation,” Durbin said in a statement. “That’s why I’m sending a letter today to Attorney General Garland asking him to step in and get to the bottom of what happened to these text messages and hold accountable those who are responsible.”

Cuffari was asked to answer the lawmakers by Aug. 9.

Cuffari opened a criminal investigation into the Secret Service’s missing text messages this month, one of dozens of inquiries his office does as part of its work overseeing the Department of Homeland Security, the nation’s third-largest agency. Many, including Democrats in Congress, viewed the timing and motive for the inquiry with suspicion, as Cuffari had not pushed to probe the fact that the records were deleted when he first learned of it months earlier. DHS encompasses agencies such as the Secret Service, the Federal Protective Service and immigration and border protection.

Three people briefed on his handling of the missing text messages painted a portrait of an office that faltered over how to handle the matter, even though they had highly skilled officials ready to attack the issue and federal agencies willing to cooperate.

A former senior executive at the inspector general’s office who left the agency this year said Cuffari’s office instructed the executive to call the agency’s top forensic expert on a Saturday early this year to tell him to “stand down” on pursuing the forensics work for the Secret Service’s phones.

“That was done at the direction of the inspector general’s front office,” the former senior executive said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they are no longer at the office.

Cuffari’s office has continued to issue reports and, on the day the lawmakers called for him to step aside, tweeted about awards that they had won for inspections. The awards are from the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, an independent executive agency that supports inspectors general.

In their letter, Thompson and Maloney asked the council to find a replacement for Cuffari on the investigation into the missing Secret Service texts.

The council said it could only help find a replacement if Cuffari decided to recuse himself and asked them for assistance finding a replacement, its executive director, Alan F. Boehm, said in an email.

Cuffari sent a letter to the House and Senate Homeland Security committees this month accusing the Secret Service of erasing text messages from the time around the assault on the Capitol and after he had asked for them for his own investigation.

The Secret Service denied maliciously erasing text messages and said the deletions were part of a preplanned “system migration” of its phones. They said none of the texts Cuffari’s office sought had disappeared.

The Federal Records Act and other laws require federal agencies to preserve government records, and it is a crime, punishable by fines and prison time, to willfully destroy government records.

In addition to the Secret Service, text messages for Trump acting homeland security secretary Chad Wolf and acting deputy secretary Ken Cuccinelli are missing for a key period leading up to the Jan. 6 attack, according to four people briefed on the matter and internal emails.

But Cuccinelli and Wolf both said they turned in their phones, as Wolf put it in a tweet, “fully loaded,” and said it was up to DHS to preserve their messages.

On Twitter, Wolf wrote: “I complied with all data retention laws and returned all my equipment fully loaded to the Department. Full stop. DHS has all my texts, emails, phone logs, schedules, etc. Any issues with missing data needs to be addressed to DHS.”

Cuccinelli, also on Twitter, said he handed in his phone before departing DHS and suggested that the agency “erased” his phone after he left.

The National Archives and Records Administration has sought more information on “the potential unauthorized deletion” of Secret Service text messages, but that inquiry could be delayed by Cuffari’s criminal investigation into the agency. The archives had no immediate comment Friday about Wolf and Cuccinelli’s text messages.“

Democrats Got a Climate Bill. Joe Manchin Got Drilling, and More.

Democrats Got a Climate Bill. Joe Manchin Got Drilling, and More.

“Along the way to the $369 billion package, the West Virginia senator secured an array of concessions for his state and for the fossil fuel industry.

An aerial view of a solar farm. Hundreds of grayish panels are organized in a shape that looks like the profile of a human head with a huge nose.  They are surrounded by a mostly flat landscape of lush trees and a few open areas.
A solar array in North Grafton, Mass. The climate legislation would pump hundreds of billions of dollars into low-carbon energy technologies.Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — In a twist of fate, Congress is suddenly poised to pass the most ambitious climate bill in United States history, largely written by a senator from a coal state who became a millionaire from his family coal business and who has taken more campaign cash from the oil and gas industry than any of his colleagues have.

That senator, Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, managed to win several major concessions for the fossil fuel industry in the $369 billion climate and energy package, which was made public on Wednesday by Senate Democrats. Mr. Manchin’s vote is critical in the evenly divided chamber because no Republicans support the bill.

The measure requires the federal government to auction off more public lands and waters for oil drilling. It expands tax credits for carbon capture technologythat could allow coal or gas-burning power plants to keep operating with lower emissions. Mr. Manchin also secured a promise from Democratic leaders to vote on a separate measure to speed up the process of issuing permits for energy infrastructure, potentially smoothing the way for projects like a natural gas pipeline in West Virginia.

Yet most environmental groups and Democrats were jubilant about the final bill, which would also pump hundreds of billions of dollars into low-carbon energy technologies — like wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicles — and would put the United States on track to slash its greenhouse gas emissions to roughly 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

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“We just made a deal with Joe Manchin,” said Senator Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii, who had pushed for more expansive climate provisions. “I don’t think anybody should have expected that this is the bill I would have written.” But even with the fossil fuel provisions, he said, the measure is “the most significant move in the right direction that the United States has ever taken.”

The legislation, if it passes, is expected to bring big benefits to West Virginia. It would make permanent a federal trust fund to support coal miners with black lung disease. It would offer new incentives for companies to build wind and solar farms in areas where coal mines or coal plants have recently closed. And it would provide generous tax credits for nascent technologies like carbon capture and storage and low-emissions hydrogen fuels, which Mr. Manchin has supported.

“Those are his pet projects,” James Van Nostrand, a law professor at West Virginia University, said. “I think he’s going to say, ‘I used my strategic position to bring back benefits for West Virginia.’ And he’ll probably do pretty well in the next election.”

Mr. Manchin has consistently said he is open to tackling climate change, despite representing a deeply conservative state where 69 percent of voters backed Donald J. Trump in 2020. But he has also insisted that the country cannot afford to turn its back on fossil fuels altogether.

“We must stop pretending that there is only one way to combat global climate change or achieve American energy independence,” Mr. Manchin said in a statement announcing the deal on Wednesday. “As the superpower of the world, it is vital we not undermine our superpower status by removing dependable and affordable fossil fuel energy before new technologies are ready to reliably carry the load.”

A man with light skin and grayish hair in a  dark suit, crisp white shirt and mauve tie. In  front of him and to his left, reporters hold out microphones.
Senator Joe Manchin III shaped the new legislation at every step of the way. Pete Marovich for The New York Times

Some climate activists called the fossil fuel provisions a “poison pill” that would lock in oil and gas emissions. The bill would require the Interior Department to hold lease sales for oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico and the Cook Inlet in Alaska. It also requires the department to continue to hold auctions for fossil fuel leases if it plans to approve new wind or solar projects on federal lands.

Those provisions would make it impossible for President Biden to uphold his campaign promise to end new federal oil and gas leasing. Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Action, an advocacy group, said in a statement that the deal “won’t solve the climate crisis, and may make it worse.”

But energy analysts and many of the country’s biggest environmental groups said that any additional emissions from fossil fuel leasing would be dwarfed by the clean-energy provisions in the bill.

Manish Bapna, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said his group’s internal modeling showed that the emissions cuts from the legislation would be as much as 10 times greater than the effects from the support it extends to fossil fuels. He called the fossil fuel provisions “pain points” but said overall the deal was “significantly positive.”

Most notably, experts said, Mr. Manchin signed on to a deal that would hasten the demise of coal plants in the United States.

A square industrial building with a tall smokestack at the top of gentle hill. The building is white with green trim. The hill is covered in trees and the sky is gray.
Mr. Manchin’s ties to the Grant Town Power Plant in West Virginia have helped to make him a wealthy man.Erin Schaff/The New York Times

West Virginia remains the nation’s second-largest producer of coal, but its mining industry has declined sharply over the past decade as electric utilities have closed hundreds of coal plants nationwide because of competition from inexpensive natural gas and renewable power. Industry leaders said they expected more coal plant closures with the passage of the bill.

“Our preliminary estimates indicate that West Virginia would be one of the states with the largest number of coal retirements due to the wind and solar tax credits,” Michelle Bloodworth, chief executive of America’s Power, an industry trade group, said in a statement.

But these days, there are more former coal miners in West Virginia than current coal miners, and the bill will undoubtedly help them, said Phil Smith, the top lobbyist for the United Mine Workers of America. He praised the permanent funding for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund as well as the tax credits for carbon capture, a technology that Mr. Manchin has called “critical” but that has so far struggled to gain traction because of high costs.

“If we’re going to have coal industry 15, 20, 30 years from now, it is because we have developed carbon capture and deployed it, that’s just the truth,” Mr. Smith said. “Folks out in the coal fields understand that. And the coal companies understand that.”

Mr. Smith said the bill’s $4 billion in tax incentives for renewable energy manufacturers to build their factories in former coal fields would directly help the approximately 45,000 miners nationwide who have lost their jobs in the past decade.

He said the impact of those closures had been “devastating” to coal communities. “To bring good jobs back into the coal fields is good,” he said.

Asked for comment, Mr. Manchin’s spokeswoman, Sam Runyon, pointed to those provisions as well as another $5 billion in the package that would allow existing coal-fired power plants to improve their efficiency and adopt environmental controls like scrubbers, which remove pollutants from smokestacks. Those measures to help the coal industry, she noted, come on top of $8.5 billion for carbon capture and storage that Mr. Manchin secured as part of a bipartisan infrastructure bill last year.

Over a decade ago, Mr. Manchin ran a campaign ad in which he shot a bullet through President Barack Obama’s climate plan, which ultimately failed. So when Mr. Biden took office, he knew that Mr. Manchin would be his biggest obstacle to passing an ambitious climate change bill.

At every step of the way, Mr. Manchin shaped the legislation.

Many Democrats wanted a clean energy standard that would pay electric utilities to replace coal- and gas-fired power plants with renewable power and that would penalize those that didn’t. But Mr. Manchin opposed the measure, so it was scrapped. He vetoed a plan to provide bigger tax credits for consumers who bought union-made electric vehicles, a measure that was opposed by Toyota Motor, which operates a nonunion plant in West Virginia. And he ensured that the tax credits for electric vehicles could not be used by the wealthiest Americans.

Mr. Manchin scaled back but did not eliminate a fee imposed on oil and gas operators for leaks of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, from wells, pipelines and other infrastructure. He rejected an early plan by Democrats to permanently ban oil drilling in the Atlantic and the Pacific and he ensured that longstanding tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry, which many Democrats wanted to repeal, went untouched.

As negotiations continued and war broke out in Ukraine, causing oil prices to skyrocket worldwide, Mr. Manchin talked about the need to increase drilling to bring down gasoline prices and cut government spending. The price tag of what was once a $2.2 trillion bill plummeted and more than $200 billion worth of spending on climate provisions was thrown out.

In the end, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic majority leader, was willing to include several provisions that would require the federal government to open more public lands to drilling. At the same time, the bill would increase the royalty rates that energy companies have to pay for extracting fossil fuels in those areas.

By Wednesday, Mr. Manchin pronounced himself satisfied. “I think that we have a balance,” he said in a news conference. “This is a bill that keeps the fossil industry and keeps the country in a very strong position” until cleaner technologies “kick in.”

The climate bill still faces hurdles to passage. It needs approval from all 50 Democratic senators as well as from the House, which has a significant bloc of progressive Democrats who have sharply opposed efforts to expand fossil fuel drilling. But even many of them seemed willing to take the deal.

Representative Pramila Jayapal, the Washington Democrat who leads the House progressive caucus, said on Thursday that she was “not ready” to commit to voting for the bill. But she praised it for pouring billions into environmental justice, speeding the clean energy transition and significantly cutting greenhouse gases.

“Does it have a couple of bad provisions? Yes,” she said. But, Ms. Jayapal added, “I think at the end of the day we’re going to look at this and say that it’s a big step forward.”

Friday, July 29, 2022

Warnock puts pressure on Walker to agree to debate in Georgia Senate race

Warnock puts pressure on Walker to agree to debate in Georgia Senate race

US Sen. Raphael Warnock, left, and Herschel Walker

“(CNN)Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia is turning up the heat on Herschel Walker, calling out his Republican opponent for so far refusing to agree to public debates before this fall's election.

Warnock released a new television ad this week criticizing Walker for "dodging" three debate invitations the incumbent has already accepted. Despite saying in multiple public remarks that he was "ready to go" and debate Warnock, Walker has not accepted those invitations.
Walker avoided debating his Republican rivals in the primary and went on to win by a large margin. But even as it remains unclear whether the former football star will agree to any televised debates, that strategy may not work in the general election. Walker's challenge to Warnock, who is seeking a full term after winning a special election in a runoff last year, is expected to be one of the closest and most high-profile Senate races in 2022.
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    Georgia remains a sharply divided state. Democrats like Warnock and President Joe Biden won statewide in the last cycle after years of GOP dominance, but the governor's mansion and state legislature are still controlled by Republicans. A recent Fox News poll of registered voters found Warnock with 46% support to Walker's 42%, while the same survey put Republican incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp at 47% against Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams at 44%.
      Still, Biden's poor approval ratings in the state and a national environment favorable to Republicans could overwhelm Warnock's attempt to refocus his election on Walker's fitness for office.
        In its ads, Warnock's campaign has repeatedly questioned whether Walker is "really ready to represent Georgia" in the US Senate, including pressuring the Republican to debate.
        "Reverend Warnock believes debates are an opportunity for Georgians to see the clear choice they have in this election, and while Walker said over and over that he would participate in general election debates, the fact is he refuses to do so. He clearly isn't ready to represent Georgians in the U.S. Senate," Warnock campaign spokeswoman Meredith Brasher said.
          Others have begun to press Walker on his reticence. During an appearance on Fox News on Wednesday morning, host Brian Kilmeade asked the GOP nominee why he had not committed to debating Warnock.
          "Sen. Warnock has nothing else to talk about," Walker said. "I'm ready to debate him, any time, any day. I just want to make it for the fans, not about a political party or about some media, and all he's doing is talking. I want to make it a fair and equitable debate for the people."
          But Republicans in Georgia -- many of whom have expressed concern over Walker's liabilities as a candidate -- say the first-time candidate would be better served by not facing Warnock in a public debate format.
          "I think Walker is more likely to win by not debating," said Erick Erickson, a conservative talk radio host based in Georgia. "God help him against Warnock onstage."
          For months, Walker has had to contend with a litany of revelations on everything from false claims about working in law enforcement and his academic record to questionable business ties -- issues that would undoubtedly come up at a debate.
          And Republicans have raised questions about Walker's ability to answer questions effectively. Earlier this month, for instance, he attended a local GOP picnic and spoke confusingly about climate change.
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          Those concerns, both in Georgia and in Washington, prompted Walker's team to bring on a bevy of new staff and consultants earlier this month. Among the campaign's recent hires are political communications consultants with national experience -- including Brett O'Donnell, who has done debate preparation for several GOP candidates.
          The Walker campaign did not respond to questions from CNN about the candidate's conditions for agreeing to a debate with Warnock.
          Warnock has agreed to invitations to debate on October 13 at Mercer University in Macon and on October 16 with the Atlanta Press Club. The Democrat has also agreed to a debate in Savannah with WTOC, though the date has yet to be determined.
          Eric Tanenblatt, a veteran Republican operative in Atlanta, dismissed Warnock's present attempts to hammer Walker on the debates as "inside baseball."
          "Most people aren't paying attention. As we get past Labor Day and closer to voting, it could become an issue," Tanenblatt said.
          Despite the first proposed debate still being more than two months away, Warnock is leaning hard into the criticism.
          "Georgians have a real clear choice between me and my opponent. How's Herschel Walker going to stand up for Georgians in Washington if he won't even stand on stage to debate me?" Warnock tweeted Wednesday.
            Walker, meanwhile, has a new ad that ties Warnock with Biden, trying to capitalize on the Democratic President's unpopularity -- a bet that it may be enough for GOP candidates to ride a red wave in November.
            "People are going to want to hear from the candidates," Tanenblatt said. "That being said, the election will likely be a referendum on Warnock and Biden."