Columbian Newspaper

Bail set at $3M in killings of 2 men near Moses Lake
Author: Associated Press

MOSES LAKE — A Moses Lake man has had bail set at $3 million in connection with the shooting deaths of two Moses Lake men on Saturday.

Noe Pena had his first appearance in Grant County Superior Court this week on investigation of two counts of second-degree murder, The Columbia Basin Herald reported.

Pena, 40, is accused shooting Epitacio Martinez-Molina, 52, and his brother, Moises Martinez-Molina, 37, according to Grant County Sheriff’s spokesman Officer Kyle Foreman.

No motive has been confirmed, but Foreman said evidence suggested they were all involved in a poker game.

Deputies were called to a home north of Moses Lake around 11:45 a.m. Saturday after someone reported a man “walking around with a gun in his hand,” according to Foreman. They found Pena walking on a road, ordered him to drop the gun and he eventually did, Foreman said.

Pena was initally taken into custody on suspicion of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Deputies found the men’s bodies after a witness told them they were in the garage of a home where Pena was seen. Grant County Coroner confirmed their identities and cause of death.

Pena remains in the Grant County Jail. It wasn’t immediately known if he has a lawyer to speak on his behalf.

Hot, gusty weather could mean explosive fire growth in West
Author: Associated Press

GREENVILLE, Calif. — Thousands of firefighters have prepared for a tougher fight against California’s largest wildfire as extremely dangerous weather returns, threatening to stoke flames into explosive growth.

Firefighters were able to save homes and hold large stretches of the blaze, but a red flag warning was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon through Thursday because of hot, bone-dry conditions with winds up to 40 mph. That could drive flames through timber, brush and grass, especially along the northern and northeastern sides of the vast wildfire.

“I think we definitely have a few hard days ahead of us,” said Shannon Prather with the U.S. Forest Service.

The Dixie Fire jumped perimeter lines in a few spots Tuesday, prompting additional evacuation orders for some 15,000 people, fire officials said.

Firefighters prevented flames on Monday from reaching homes in the small Northern California community of Greenville near the Plumas National Forest as the 3-week-old fire grew to over 395 square miles (1,024 square kilometers) across Plumas and Butte counties.

On Tuesday, spot fires jumped some of the perimeters and burned several acres of brush on the western side of the blaze, even though crews had cut back areas of unburned fuel with bulldozers and dumped some 230,000 gallons (870,600 litres) of fire retardant, said Mike Wink, a state fire operations section chief.

Heat from the flames also created a pyrocumulus cloud, a massive column of smoke that rose 30,000 feet (10,000 yards) in the air, he said.

The fire has threatened thousands of homes and destroyed 67 houses and other buildings since breaking out July 14. It was 35% contained.

About 150 miles (240 kilometers) west of California’s Dixie Fire, the lightning-sparked McFarland Fire threatened remote homes along the Trinity River in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. The fire was only 5% contained. It was burning fiercely through drought-stricken vegetation and had doubled in size every day, fire officials warned.

Similar risky weather was expected across Southern California, where heat advisories and warnings were issued for interior valleys, mountains and deserts for much of the week.

Heat waves and historic drought tied to climate change have made wildfires harder to fight in the American West. Scientists say climate change has made the region much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

More than 20,000 firefighters and support personnel were battling 97 large, active wildfires covering 2,919 square miles (7,560 square kilometers) in 13 U.S. states, the National Interagency Fire Center said.

Montana had 25 active large blazes, followed by Idaho with 21 and Oregon with 13. California had 11.

In Hawaii, firefighters gained control over the 62-square-mile (160-square-kilometer) Nation Fire that forced thousands of people to evacuate over the weekend and destroyed at least two homes on the Big Island.

In southern Oregon, lightning struck parched forests hundreds of times in a 24-hour period, igniting 50 new wildfires. But firefighters and aircraft attacked the flames before they spread out of control and no homes were immediately threatened.

Meanwhile, Oregon’s Bootleg Fire, the nation’s largest at 647 square miles (1,676 square kilometers), was 84% contained and firefighters were busy mopping up hot spots and strengthening fire lines.

“Crews are working tirelessly to ensure we are as prepared as we can be for the extreme fire weather forecast for the next couple days,” a U.S. Forest Service update said.

Microsoft to require employees to be vaccinated
Author: Associated Press

REDMOND — Microsoft has reversed course and will now require employees to be fully vaccinated to enter the company’s U.S. offices and other worksites, starting next month.

The Redmond-based tech giant told employees Tuesday it will “require proof of vaccination for all employees, vendors, and any guests entering Microsoft buildings in the U.S.,” the Seattle Times reported.

The company also said it will have a process to accommodate employees who have a medical condition or other reasons that prevent them from getting vaccinated.

Caregivers of people who are immunosuppressed or parents of children who are too young to receive a vaccine can work from home until January, the company said.

It is also delaying its return to the office by nearly a month, to Oct. 4.

The company’s new vaccine mandate won’t be imposed outside of the U.S. due to legal and vaccine distribution differences, the memo said.

Microsoft’s new vaccine policy follows similar moves last week by other employers, including Google and Facebook, along with Disney and Walmart. This week, Tyson and healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente joined the list.

Redfin, the Seattle-based online brokerage, told staff Tuesday it will delay its office re-opening indefinitely and will require employees to be vaccinated before they go into the office.

Smoke, ash, heat and drought hurting Washington agriculture
Author: Associated Press

SEATTLE — It’s been a tough summer for agriculture across Washington state.

Crops like berries have struggled under record heat and drought. Now, some worry about how smoke in August could stunt the growth of some crops should the haze intensify and linger, KOMO-TV reported.

Jennifer Schuh has worked with her father Steve Schuh for decades in the Skagit Valley, growing everything from corn to berries, squash, cucumbers and pumpkins. She said a long stretch of thick smoke could hurt their crops.

Steve Schuh isn’t letting the potential of damaging smoke worry him, but he acknowledges that ash can block a plant access to light and food.

“They don’t function right if they’re all covered in smoke,” said Steve Schuh.

While smoke has stayed in the upper levels of the atmosphere in Western Washington this week, communities in Central and Eastern Washington have battled wildfires and bad air quality for weeks.

Some winemakers say smoke has not impacted their wine grapes so far, but it could get bad in August.

“They can get something called, ‘smoke taint,’” said Nick Bond, the Washington state climatologist. “That is especially a problem right before they’re harvested.”

Bond said wildfires could intensify in the next few weeks, posing a threat to agriculture around the region.

Treasury announces auctions to raise $126 billion next week
Author: MARTIN CRUTSINGER, AP Economics Writer

WASHINGTON — The Treasury Department announced Wednesday it will raise $126 billion to finance the government in a series of auctions next week by employing emergency measures to keep from broaching the newly imposed debt limit.

The Treasury announcement, part of Treasury’s quarterly refunding operations, will see the $126 billion raised by auctioning 3 and 10-year notes and a 30-year bond with the auctions occurring on Tuesday through Wednesday of next week.

Those auctions will raise money to meet debt-servicing requirements on $58.6 billion in Treasury notes and bonds that are coming due plus raising approximately $67.4 billion in new cash to keep the government operating.

The government’s debt ceiling which had been suspended for two years, went back into effect on Aug. 1 at $28.4 trillion, the level the debt had risen to since the limit was suspended. That period has seen the annual federal deficit hit a record $3.4 trillion last year as the government approved trillions of dollars of support to an economy hit by a global pandemic.

The emergency measures Treasury is employment involve book-keeping maneuvers to disinvest various government employee pensions funds to free up more borrowing room while remaining under the debt limit. Once the deadlock over approving a higher debt limit is resolved the funds are returned along with all the interest lost to the various accounts.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has called on Congress to quickly lift or suspend the borrowing limit to avoid the threat of the government defaulting on its debt, something Yellen has said would be “catastrophic.”

Treasury officials said Wednesday they still did not have an estimate of when the government will run out of maneuvering room to use what it calls “extraordinary measures” to avoid a default, saying the unusual financing issues raised by the pandemic have made forecasting difficult.

“The period of time that extraordinary measures may last is subject to considerable uncertainty due to a variety of factors … exacerbated by the heightened uncertainty in payments and receipts related to the economic impact of the pandemic,” Brian Smith, Treasury deputy assistant secretary for federal finance, said in a statement.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated in July that Treasury could exhaust its maneuvering room in either October or November. The need to deal with the debt limit is likely to become embroiled in the fight between Democrats and Republicans over passage of pending infrastructure bills.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on July 21 that he doubted that any Republican would vote to increase the debt limit.

Stocks slip as investors weigh corporate earnings, jobs data
Author: Associated Press

Stocks fell on Wall Street in morning trading on Wednesday as investors weighed another batch of corporate earnings and economic data that could shed more light on how the economic recovery is going.

The S&P 500 index fell 0.2% as of 10:14 a.m. Eastern. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 135 points, or 0.4%, to 34,890 and the Nasdaq rose less than 0.1%.

Crude oil prices fell more than 3% and pushed energy companies lower. Retailers, hotels and other companies that rely on direct consumer spending also fell.

The yield on the 10-year rose to 1.18% from 1.17% late Wednesday.

Payroll processor ADP revealed a disappointing snapshot of the nation’s employment recovery, adding to concerns about the lagging recovery in the jobs market. ADP said the private sector added 330,000 jobs in July, falling far short of economists’ expectations. The report comes ahead of the Labor Department’s more comprehensive July jobs report on Friday.

The resurgence of COVID-19 with the highly contagious delta variant in spots around the world is also a key concern for Wall Street. China’s worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic a year and a half ago escalated Wednesday with dozens more cases around the country and the sealing-off of one city.

Investors are also still in the thick of corporate earnings season. The results have been solid so far. Roughly 75% of companies in the S&P 500 have turned in their earnings and the majority have been surprisingly good.

Strong profit and revenue results weren’t enough to lift stocks for many companies on Wednesday, however. General Motors fell 7.5% despite overcoming an industry-wide chip shortage to beat analysts’ profit expectations and raise its forecast. CVS Health slipped 1.9% after also reporting solid results.

Ticket seller and concert promoter Live Nation rose 3.9% after reporting surprisingly mild second-quarter loss.

Online broker Robinhood surged 31%.

Senators try to sell $1T infrastructure plan to public

WASHINGTON — The senators who spent months stitching together a nearly $1 trillion infrastructure package are now trying to sell it to the American people before a key vote expected this week that would push a long recognized national priority much closer to the finish line, after years of talk.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Tuesday that the $65 billion for broadband means that some people in her state would get access to the internet for the first time. “The pandemic that we have endured for more than a year laid bare the disparities in access to high-speed internet,” Collins said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, spoke of how the bill would lead to more rural and Native Alaskans having access to a sink to wash their hands in. The bill dedicates about $55 billion in new funding for water and wastewater systems. “We have to do right by our Native people,” she said.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., noted there is about $16 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that would help fund projects designed to curb coastal erosion. “My state has lost as much land as is in the entire state of Delaware. But other states are losing land, too,” he said.

And Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., talked about how $110 billion in new funding for roads and bridges would mean access to markets for farms in Montana such as his own. “It is critically important we keep our aging bridges and roads and airports up to snuff,” Tester said.

The lawmakers, part of a group that they like to call the G-10, for gang of 10 — five Republican, five Democratic senators — are appealing to the wishes of many voters for not only better airports, roads and internet service, but also for some bipartisanship in Washington, without being directly asked to pay for those improvements through higher income taxes or user fees.

While it’s looking like the Senate will approve the bill during the coming week, supporters of the legislation will face an array of obstacles advancing the package, a major priority in President Joe Biden’s agenda. Interest groups on both sides of the political spectrum are taking aim at provisions they don’t like, potentially unraveling the agreement.

Some conservatives don’t like that the agreement moves the country further away from relying on user fees, such as the federal gas tax, to pay for highway and transit improvements. Others are wary that the bill sets a course for much more federal spending after the government already provided for nearly $5 trillion dedicated to COVID relief. This week, the Treasury Department warned Congress it was hitting the nation’s debt limit.

“Every single time we add an enormous sum to our national debt, there is bipartisanship behind it,” Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said.

Environmental groups worry that the bill doesn’t do enough to address climate change.

“It is clear that the deal does not meet the moment on climate or justice,″ said Tiernan Sittenfeld, a senior vice president of the League of Conservation Voters.

The pressure from the left underpins House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s statement that there won’t be a House vote on the bipartisan infrastructure plan until the Senate also passes the $3.5 trillion Democratic bill that boosts spending on health, environment and social programs.

The Senate is plowing through efforts to amend the narrower infrastructure bill, which will require 60 votes to advance for passage. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is intent on passing the legislation as soon as possible so that the Senate can turn its attention to a budget blueprint that will set the stage for crafting and passing the larger $3.5 trillion package in the fall.

Formally called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the proposal has clocked in at some 2,700 pages.

The Senate’s Republican leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has sided with those voting to allow debate to proceed, but he has not said how he will ultimately vote. He said Tuesday the bill has a chance to be a “bipartisan success story for the country,” but he is warning Democrats against trying to speed up the amendment process.

“Like a lot of us, I’m interested in what it looks like in the end,” McConnell said. He noted that “the past two administrations tried to do it, were unable to. The American people need it. I think it’s one of those areas where there seems to be broad, bipartisan agreement.”

By evening, the Senate had overwhelmingly approved three noncontroversial amendments, while rejecting three others. As the amendment process continued, senators were weighing how much to try to change the package and how hard to try, knowing it would be difficult to reach the 60-vote threshold to approve any substantial changes.

In addition to the $110 billion in new spending for roads and bridges and $55 billion for water and wastewater infrastructure, the bipartisan package is expected to provide, $39 billion for public transit and $66 billion for rail. There’s also to be billions for airports, ports, broadband internet and electric vehicle charging stations.

Paying for the package has been a challenge after senators rejected ideas to raise revenue from a new gas tax or other streams. Instead, it is being financed from funding sources that might not pass muster with deficit hawks, including repurposing some $205 billion in untapped COVID-19 relief aid, as well as unemployment assistance that was turned back by some states, and relying on projected future economic growth.

The bipartisan bill still faces a rough road in the House, where progressive lawmakers want a more robust package but may have to settle for this one to keep Biden’s infrastructure plans on track.

The outcome with the bipartisan effort will set the stage for the next debate over Biden’s much more ambitious $3.5 trillion package, a strictly partisan pursuit of far-reaching programs and services including child care and health care that touch almost every corner of American life. Republicans strongly oppose that bill, which would require a simple majority for passage. Final votes on that measure are not expected until fall.

Associated Press writer Matthew Daly contributed to this report.

U.S. will review oil and gas leasing program in Alaska refuge
Author: BECKY BOHRER, Associated Press

JUNEAU, Alaska — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced Tuesday it is moving ahead with a new environmental review of oil and gas leasing in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge after the Interior secretary said she found “multiple legal deficiencies” in a prior review that provided a basis for the first lease sale on the refuge’s coastal plain earlier this year.

The federal land agency said there will be a public process to determine the scope of the review and identify major issues related to a leasing program. Information gathered during that process will influence development of the review, according to an agency notice.

President Joe Biden, in a January executive order, called on the Interior secretary to temporarily halt activities related to the leasing program, review the program and “as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, conduct a new, comprehensive analysis of the potential environmental impacts of the oil and gas program.”

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in June said her review identified deficiencies in the record underpinning the leases, including an environmental review that failed to “adequately analyze a reasonable range of alternatives.”

She announced plans at that time for the new review and halted activities related to the leasing program while the analysis was pending.

Richard Packer, a spokesperson for the federal land agency, did not answer questions from The Associated Press or provide additional details on the agency’s plans, referring instead to an agency press release.

Conservationists welcomed a new review but also called on Congress to repeal the provisions of law calling for lease sales.

A law passed in 2017 called for at least two lease sales within the coastal plain, with the first before Dec. 22, 2021, and the second before Dec. 22, 2024, the land agency has said. The first lease sale was held in January, in the waning days of the Trump administration.

Alaska political leaders, including the current Republican congressional delegation, have long pushed to open the coastal plain to development. Drilling supporters view development as a way to boost oil production, generate revenue and create or sustain jobs.

Critics have said the area off the Beaufort Sea provides habitat for wildlife including caribou, polar bears and birds — and should be off limits to drilling. The Indigenous Gwich’in consider the coastal plain sacred and have expressed concern about impacts to a caribou herd they rely on for subsistence.

Alaska U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan in a statement said Tuesday’s announcement was a “political stall tactic” and called on Haaland to “accept the science” in the existing environmental review.

By initiating a new review, “the Biden administration is ignoring the will of Congress, the will of Alaskans and the best interests of the Alaska Native communities on the North Slope,” Sullivan said.

Attorneys for the North Slope Borough, Native Village of Kaktovik and Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation argued against efforts in court to block the January lease sale.

The notice released Tuesday said the purpose of the supplemental review planned by the Bureau of Land Management was bound by law and remained the same as the earlier review: to implement provisions of the 2017 law.

The notice said potential alternatives to be considered included those that would designate certain areas as open or closed to leasing, limit surface development, prohibit surface infrastructure in sensitive areas and “otherwise avoid or mitigate” oil and gas activity impacts.

Tim Woody, a spokesperson for The Wilderness Society, noted in an email that the law calls for another lease sale by late 2024.

“As it stands now, the only way to prevent that lease sale would be for Congress to take action to amend or repeal the drilling provision in that 2017 legislation,” he said.

Critics said the first lease sale was rushed and labeled it a bust after major oil companies stayed on the sidelines. A main bidder was the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, a state corporation.

The authority holds seven, 10-year leases, said Alan Weitzner, the corporation’s executive director.

Weitzner said the corporation received a letter from an Interior Department official notifying it of a suspension of operations on those leases.

The letter, dated June 1, stated that the Bureau of Land Management would undertake the additional environmental review “to determine whether the leases should be reaffirmed, voided or subject to additional mitigation measures.”

The corporation asked the Interior Department the basis for making that determination but has not received a response, Weitzner said.

“From our side, we have very valid, enforceable leases and we are looking to assert our full rights under those leases,” he said.

Portland Business News

The Pitch: Sport Source wants to help you find a place to play
Author: Malia Spencer
Sport Source wants to do for sports facilities what Airbnb did for vacation rentals.

Seattle Times Politics

6 takeaways from ballots counted Tuesday in Seattle’s 2021 primary election
Author: Jim Brunner

General election matchups are starting to take shape as vote tallies from Tuesday in the Aug. 3 primary showed which candidates have momentum in key contests.