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Florida asks Supreme Court to let cruise ships sail again

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WASHINGTON — Florida urged the Supreme Court on Friday to block federal Covid restrictions that have vastly cut back the number of cruise ships operating from the state’s ports.

In an emergency appeal, the state said restrictions imposed by the Centers for Disease Control have made it very difficult for the industry to get going again, after it was shut down for nearly 16 months.

Federal rules now allow ships to board passengers if cruise lines meet such requirements as setting up Covid testing labs, running test voyages, maintaining social distancing, and establishing onshore housing for quarantining passengers.

The federal government said the rules were necessary with the United States in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic that included several deadly outbreaks clustered on cruise ships. “These experiences demonstrated that cruise ships are uniquely suited to spread COVID-19, likely due to their close quarters for passengers and crew for prolonged periods.”

Now is not the time to put the rules on hold, the Justice Department argued, as the government works with the industry to get it going again — noting that the cruise industry did not join Florida’s lawsuit.

But the rules allow only a fraction of the normal number of ships to sail, the state said.

“The CDC’s order is manifestly beyond its authority,” Florida said. The federal law giving the CDC power to enact traditional quarantine measures “does not permit the agency to remake the entire cruise ship industry.”

The state said the restrictions have cost Florida tens of millions of dollars in lost tax and port revenue and required it to meet the additional expensive of paying unemployment benefits to cruise industry employees.

In June a federal court agreed with the state and blocked the CDC restrictions. U.S. District Court Judge Steven Merryday of Tampa, Florida, said the effort to impose the rules was “breathtaking, unprecedented, and acutely and singularly authoritarian.” He said he wondered whether the CDC would have argued that it could ban intercourse to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, put Merryday’s order on hold. Florida’s emergency motion asked the Supreme Court to lift that hold and allow the judge’s ruling to take effect.



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France recalls ambassador to U.S. in response to new defense agreement

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Bureau of Land Management moving back to D.C., reversing a Trump-era decision

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WASHINGTON — Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is moving the national headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management back to the nation’s capital after two years in Colorado, reversing a decision by former President Donald Trump’s administration to move the agency closer to the region it serves.

The land management bureau, which oversees nearly one-fifth of the nation’s public lands, lost nearly 300 employees to retirement or resignation after its headquarters was moved to Grand Junction, Colorado, in 2019. Grand Junction will be rechristened the agency’s “western headquarters,” Haaland said in a news release, and “have an important role to play in the bureau’s clean energy, outdoor recreation, conservation, and scientific missions.”

With control of 245 million acres, the agency has broad influence over energy development and agriculture in the western U.S., managing public lands for uses ranging from fossil fuel extraction, renewable power development and grazing, to recreation and wilderness.

Trump’s first interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, initiated the headquarters move west and called it a needed reorganization that put top agency officials closer to the public lands it oversees. The move was completed under David Bernhardt, who succeeded Zinke in 2019.

Critics said the Trump administration intended to gut the agency and pointed to the number of people who refused to transfer to Colorado as evidence of the administration’s bid to get rid of career employees. A similar mass exodus occurred after two Agriculture Department research agencies were moved from Washington to Kansas City, Missouri, under Trump.

Haaland, who opposed the BLM move as a congresswoman from New Mexico, visited the Colorado headquarters in July after being confirmed as interior secretary.

Top Colorado Democrats, including Gov. Jared Polis and members of the state’s congressional delegation, wanted the headquarters to stay in Grand Junction. Democratic U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper said Haaland’s decision to keep a presence in Grand Junction “will help ensure we have a fully functioning agency that understands the West.″

To succeed, the western headquarters “must be a strong, permanent presence that engages the community and adds a Western perspective and value to the BLM’s mission,” Hickenlooper said. The Trump administration “scattered jobs” throughout the region and assigned only a few dozen positions to “a shell headquarters in Grand Junction,″ Hickenlooper added.

Haaland said in her statement that the past several years “have been incredibly disruptive to the organization, to our public servants and to their families.”

“There’s no doubt that the BLM should have a leadership presence in Washington, D.C. — like all the other land management agencies — to ensure that it has access to the policy, budget and decision-making levers to best carry out its mission,” she said. BLM’s presence in Colorado and across the West will continue to grow, she added.

Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the bureau does not need two headquarters.

“The Biden administration’s answer for everything is to double the size of government,” Barrasso said. “The single headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management belongs in the West, closer to the resources it manages and the people it serves.”

What the BLM needs “is an honest director who doesn’t bring shame to the agency,” Barrasso said, referring to President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the bureau, former Democratic aide Tracy Stone-Manning, who received no Republican support in an energy panel vote on her nomination in July. Barrasso and other GOP senators have lambasted Stone-Manning over alleged links to a 1989 environmental sabotage investigation.

Stone-Manning will face a full Senate vote in order to become the new director. It would take every Senate Republican plus at least one Democratic lawmaker to block her confirmation in the evenly divided chamber. Haaland, who would be Stone-Manning’s boss, reiterated her full support for the nominee during her Colorado visit.

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France recalls its ambassadors to U.S., Australia over submarine dispute

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France announced Friday it is recalling its ambassadors to the United States and Australia after it said its Indo-Pacific interests had been undermined by a new agreement made by the Biden administration on nuclear submarines.

“At the request of the President of the Republic, I am recalling to Paris without delay our ambassadors to the United States and to Australia for consultations,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement.

“This exceptional decision is justified by the exceptional gravity of the announcements made on 15th September by Australia and the United States.”

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden announced the security partnership with Australia and the United Kingdom.

It will allow Australia to build nuclear-powered submarines for the first time, using technology that the U.S. had only previously shared with Britain. Nuclear submarines offer more stealth capabilities, speed and range than traditional submarines, and just a handful of countries, including China and Russia, have nuclear-powered submarines.

Le Drian said that this new pact was an affront to France’s agreement with Australia.

“The cancellation of the Attack class submarine program binding Australia and France since 2016, and the announcement of a new partnership with the United States meant to launch studies on a possible future cooperation on nuclear-powered submarines, constitute unacceptable behavior between allies and partners, whose consequences directly affect the vision we have of our alliances, of our partnerships and of the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe,” he said.

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