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Biden Authorizes Release of 50 Million Barrels of Oil From U.S. Reserve To Ease Gas Prices

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Experts believe the release will, at best, provide temporary relief to extremely high gas prices but only if other countries tap into a significant amount of oil from their reserves as well. 


Biden Taps Into Oil Reserves

President Joe Biden authorized the release of 50 million barrels of oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve on Tuesday in an attempt to bring down staggeringly high gas prices.

“American consumers are feeling the impact of elevated gas prices at the pump and in their home heating bills, and American businesses are, too, because oil supply has not kept up with demand as the global economy emerges from the pandemic,” a White House announcement reads. “That’s why President Biden is using every tool available to him to work to lower prices and address the lack of supply.”

As of Tuesday morning, the national average of gas sat at $3.40, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA). While down slightly over the last few days, the national average for November remains the highest it’s been since 2013. 

Despite the announcement, Americans shouldn’t expect to see an immediate drop in gas costs. In fact, gas prices are unlikely to be impacted much in the coming weeks since the government’s reserve only stores crude oil, which will need time to be refined into gasoline. 

Many analysts expect gas from the reserves to start reaching consumers’ pumps around mid-December, but even then, it will likely be used up in around a week. Last year, the U.S. used about 8 million barrels of gas from the reserve a day.

Those two factors are likely major contributors to why this news didn’t do much to calm the oil market. Following the announcement Tuesday, the benchmark oil price in the U.S. — measured by West Texas Intermediate crude futures — actually rose. 

Last week, Biden asked the Federal Trade Commission to look into “mounting evidence of anti-consumer behavior by oil and gas companies” amid rising gas prices. 

Price Concerns Persist

In its announcement, the White House said the U.S. release is being taken “in parallel with other major energy consuming nations, including China, India, Japan, Republic of Korea, and the United Kingdom.” 

A number of analysts cited by various news publications have predicted that this kind of multi-country release is the only chance the U.S. actually has of meaningfully impacting gas prices.

“The bottom line for motorists is this moves the needle — but barely, and maybe not for a very long period of time,” Patrick De Haan, an industry expert at Gas Buddy, explained to The Washington Post. “It’s certainly something, but how much that something is will be contingent on how much the other countries put in.”

It is currently unclear how much oil the other countries plan to release, though Indian officials have said the country will release 5 million barrels from its reserve. 

Efforts could also go south in the long-term if the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) pushes back. It previously warned of a possible response if Biden decided to make this type of release, with the organization arguing that the U.S. has no real justification for needing to tap into its reserve. 

“There’s a threat this could lead to a risk of prices being elevated for longer if OPEC holds back meaningful production increases as a result,” De Haan told The Post. 

Overall, the release of oil is a tricky situation for Biden. He was already facing stacking criticism from Republicans for recent inflation and supply chain bottlenecks. Even now, many have said the release of 50 million barrels isn’t good enough on its own.

On the other side, Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) have argued that tapping into the reserve could provide temporary relief.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Business Insider) (Fox Business)

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New Federal Rules Allow Debt Collectors To DM People on Social Media

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Among several limitations, collectors cannot message people publicly, must state upfront that they’re pursuing a debt, and must give people an opportunity to opt-out of receiving additional messages through social media.


Debt Collectors Can Now DM

If you’ve suddenly found yourself flooded with more DMs in the last day, it might not be because you’ve become more popular. Instead, it could be because a new federal rule that went into effect Tuesday now allows debt collectors to message people by email, text, and even through direct messages on social media.

Debt collectors will still be subject to several notable limitations.

For example, if they reach out to someone on social media, it has to be through a private message. It can’t be in a public comments section or anything viewable to anyone except the recipient.

Additionally, if they attempt to reach out by adding a recipient as a friend or contact, they must be clear from the start that they’re pursuing a debt. 

Finally, collectors must allow recipients to opt-out of receiving further messages from them on the social media platform they reach out on. 

Collectors Praise the Rule, Others Express Concern

The new rule, which was greenlit by former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Kathy Kraninger, has largely been met with praise throughout the collection industry. Kraninger, a Trump-appointee who vacated her office during President Joe Biden’s transition, has argued that the rule is intended to “modernize the legal regime for debt collection.”

Essentially, she and debt collectors have contended that texts, email, and social media are now the preferred methods of communication for many people in America.

Many others, particularly those outside the collection industry, are less happy with the new rule. 

“If left unchecked, this expanded access to consumers could very well contribute to new ways to harass struggling consumers,” Michelle Singletary of The Washington Post said.

“I’ve followed this issue for years, and while many companies operate within the law, illegal operations can do a lot of damage to innocent consumers,” she added. “Debt collection isn’t wicked. But it can lead to embarrassing, unethical and illegal tactics.”

For example, Singletary noted that some companies try to collect debts even after they’re no longer legally collectible. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Business Insider) (CBS News)

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Workers in Alabama Will Rehold Vote to Unionize After Amazon Interfered With First Election, Agency Finds

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Among other actions, federal officials found that Amazon improperly placed an unmarked U.S. Postal Service mailbox in front of its warehouse.


Workers Will Redo Union Vote

Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, will revote on whether or not to unionize thanks to a ruling issued Monday by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The workers previously agreed not to unionize by a vote of 1,798 to 738 in April. Had they voted yes, the group would have set a precedent by becoming the first Amazon employees in the country to be represented by a union.

Following the initial vote, the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union — which led the charge for employees to organize — filed unfair labor practices charges with the NLRB, an independent federal agency. There, it alleged that Amazon at times broke the law while campaigning against the effort. 

In its Monday decision, the NLRB’s Atlanta regional director Lisa Henderson agreed, saying Amazon, “essentially highjacked the process and gave a strong impression that it controlled the process.”

She additionally noted that Amazon “improperly polled employees when it presented small groups of employees with the open and observable choice to pick up or not pick up ‘Vote No’ paraphernalia in front of” managers.

Amazon Challenges NLRB Ruling

Amazon is expected to appeal Henderson’s decision. 

“It’s disappointing that the NLRB has now decided that those votes shouldn’t count. ​​As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees,” spokesperson Kelly Nantel said according to NPR. 

In a statement, Nantel also cited the fact that the results of the first vote were overwhelming. 

Convincing employees to flip the results will likely be an uphill battle. To do so, those in favor of unionizing will need to convince hundreds to vote differently or convince thousands of workers who sat out the last round to now vote. 

Still, this is a second breath of life for pro-unionists. While some believe the outcome could change given high employee turnover rates at Amazon, many others expect it to hold firm as a “no” vote. 

See what others are saying: (NPR) (WVTM) (The Washington Post)

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CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart Helped Fuel the Opioid Crisis, Jury Finds

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While all three chains have vowed to appeal, this ruling is a massive win for plaintiffs who argued that opioid manufacturers and retailers violated “public nuisance” laws when contributing to the opioid epidemic.


Jury Sides Against Retailers

A federal jury in Cleveland agreed Tuesday that CVS Health, Walgreens, and Walmart — three of the country’s biggest pharmacy chains — are responsible for contributing to the opioid crisis in two Ohio counties.

This is the first time that the retail arm of the drug industry has been held accountable for opioid overdoses and deaths. It’s also the first time a jury has been used to decide in a major opioid lawsuit.

Previously, only manufacturers such as Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson faced settlements or penalties, though the latter narrowly escaped $465 million in opioid fines in Oklahoma earlier this month after the state’s Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling. 

Many plaintiffs in thousands of similar lawsuits all across the country are seeing the Ohio jury’s decision as an optimistic sign — especially since most of them are using the same argument. Plaintiffs in Ohio alleged that either opioid manufacturers or retailers violated “public nuisance” laws by ignoring harm caused by opioid abuse that later snowballed into a full-fledged public health crisis. 

Retailers Vow to Appeal

Unsurprisingly, all three chains have promised to appeal Tuesday’s verdict.

There is precedent to think this decision could be overturned. For example, the now-overturned J&J lawsuit first successfully used the public nuisance argument in lower courts, but during an appeal, the Oklahoma Supreme Court thought the plaintiff’s argument was too broad. 

That said, every state has different public nuisance laws, so there may not be a clear-cut answer as to what actually could happen with all these cases. 

Despite a pending appeal, the judge overseeing Tuesday’s Ohio verdict will make a determination on how much these companies must pay after additional hearings in the spring. 

While the retail arm has largely avoided settling up to this point, if this case ultimately does not go their way, it could open the door for future settlements if they decide that route is less costly than going to trial. 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Associated Press) (The Wall Street Journal)

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