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    The Trump administration was expected to announce completion as soon as Thursday of one of its most momentous environmental rollbacks, removing federal protections for millions of miles of the country’s streams, arroyos and wetlands. The changes, launched by President Donald Trump when he took office, sharply scale back the government’s interpretation of which waterways qualify for protection against pollution and development under the half-century-old Clean Water Act. A draft version of the rule released earlier would end federal oversight for up to half of the nation’s wetlands and one-fifth of the country’s streams, environmental groups warned. That includes some waterways that have been federally protected for decades under the Clean Water Act. Trump has portrayed farmers — a highly valued constituency of the Republican Party and one popular with the public — as the main beneficiaries of the rollback. He has claimed farmers gathered around him wept with gratitude when he signed an order for the rollback in February 2017. The administration says the changes will allow farmers to plow their fields without fear of unintentionally straying over the banks of a federally protected dry creek, bog or ditch. However, the government’s own figures show it is real estate developers and those in other nonfarm business sectors who take out the most permits for impinging on wetlands and waterways — and stand to reap the biggest regulatory and financial relief. Environmental groups and many former environmental regulators say the change will allow industry and developers to dump more contaminants in waterways or simply fill them in, damaging habitat for wildlife and making it more difficult and expensive for downstream communities to treat drinking water to make it safe. “This administration's eliminating clean water protections to protect polluters instead of protecting people,” said Blan Holman, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. The Trump administration has targeted a range of environmental protections for rollbacks. Trump says his aim is to ease regulatory burdens on businesses.
  • Japan has had the second straight year of red ink in trade for last year, hurt by a slowdown of demand in China, according to government data released Thursday. China's trade tensions with the U.S. has hurt Japan's trade, with Japan's exports for 2019 falling 5.6% from the previous year, while imports fell 5.0%. Japan had a trade surplus of 6.6 trillion yen ($60 billion) with the U.S. last year, as exports fell 1.4% from 2018, and imports fell 4.4%. President Donald Trump has thrown out past trade deals, including that with China, that he said added to the U.S. trade deficit and cost the country manufacturing jobs.
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom is urging a federal judge to reject Pacific Gas and Electric's blueprint for getting out of bankruptcy and renewing his threat to lead a bid to turn the beleaguered utility into a government-run operation. In a court filing Wednesday, Newsom's lawyers gave a sternly worded rebuke of PG&E's plan, escalating the intrigue in the year-old case that will determine the fate of the nation's largest utility. PG&E is trying to dig out of a financial hole created by more than $50 billion in claims stemming from a series of catastrophic wildfires that have been blamed on the San Francisco company. The Democratic governor's misgivings cast more uncertainty on PG&E's hopes to emerge from bankruptcy by June 30 even as it makes progress on other fronts. The San Francisco company rid itself of another irritant Wednesday by striking a deal with a group of bondholders that had been pushing a competing reorganization plan that had been opposed by PG&E's management. The truce requires the bondholders to drop their alternative proposal in exchange for PG&E paying them more money than it had originally intended. The company didn't immediately disclose all the financial details, but said it included raising money through a refinancing that would save its customers about $1 billion. Now Newsom appears to pose PG&E's most formidable stumbling block. Although he doesn't have the power to block PG&E's preferred route out of bankruptcy, the Democratic governor has tremendous leverage because the company's plan hinges on its ability to draw upon a special insurance fund California created last summer to help insulate utilities from potential wildfire losses in the future. PG&E needs the approval of its top California regulator, the Public Utilities Commission, whose current president, Marybel Batjer, was appointed to the job by Newsom last summer. In Wednesday's filing, Newsom asserted that PG&E is trying to pressure the Public Utilities Commission into accepting a 'sub-optimal plan.' In a statement, PG&E promised “additional changes to the plan are forthcoming. We will continue to engage with the Governor’s office to address his concerns.' Newsom fired his latest salvo on the eve of a scheduled hearing before U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali that will cover a wide range of unresolved issues in the complex case. Newsom told Montali that PG&E’s current plan doesn’t meet the requirements needed to participate in the state’s wildfire fund, echoing a point he first made in a Dec. 13 letter to the company informing management the proposal needed a dramatic overhaul. In his latest objection, Newsom expressed frustration that PG&E hasn’t budged much since he sent that letter nearly six weeks ago despite further talks with representatives from his office. “He is clearly not happy with what has been going on behind closed doors, and he is trying to telegraph that to Judge Montali,” said University of California Hastings College of the Law professor Jared Ellias, who has been closely following the PG&E case. Newsom fired his latest salvo on the eve of a scheduled hearing before Montali that will cover a wide range of unresolved issues in the complex case. Although PG&E has won Montali's approval of settlements that will pay a total of $25.5 billion to wildfire victims, insurers and government agencies, the company is still working on the financing to cover those deals while also leaving enough money to pay for billions of dollars in improvements needed for its electricity transmission system. Newsom blasted PG&E's agreement to pay more than $1 billion in fees to secure financing that he fears will saddle the company with too much debt and undercut its ability to pay for the badly needed upgrades. Without those improvements, PG&E would be more likely to ignite even more fires in the future and probably resort to deliberate blackouts inconveniencing hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risks during hot, dry and windy conditions that are expected to become more intense amid climate change. The governor also has demanded that PG&E replace its entire 14-member board of directors, including current CEO Bill Johnson, even though the company already did a major overhaul of that body responsible for overseeing the utility's management. Newsom didn't provide any details about how California might finance a takeover of a company with a market value that has been fluctuating between $5 billion and $40 billion in recent years. The elected leaders in various cities and counties in PG&E's sprawling service area also have expressed support for transforming the utility into a non-profit cooperative owned by the government, but analysts still believe that is unlikely to happen.
  • Stocks that moved heavily or traded substantially on Wednesday: Netflix Inc., down $12.11 at $326. The streaming video company gave investors a weak forecast for subscriber growth. IBM (IBM), up $4.72 at $143.89. The technology and consulting company's fourth-quarter profit and revenue beat Wall Street forecasts. Eaton Corp., up $2.64 at $97.16. The power management company is selling its hydraulics business to Danfoss A/S for $3.3 billion in cash. Intel Corp., up $2.18 at $62.73. The chipmaker said Andy Bryant stepped down as chairman and will be succeeded by Omar Ishrak. Capital One Financial Corp., up $4.57 at $106.76. The credit card issuer and bank reported surprisingly good fourth-quarter earnings. Express Inc., up 86 cents at $5.01. The retailer announced plans to cut costs and close 100 stores over the next two years. Navient Corp., up $1.32 at $15.18. The student loan company's fourth-quarter profit and revenue beat Wall Street forecasts. Baker Hughes Co., down 5 cents at $22.68. The oilfield services company reported disappointing fourth-quarter earnings as lower demand hurt the industry.
  • It's no secret, sports fans. Better games produce better ratings. That was the simple lesson for the NFL this week, after a dip in viewership for its conference championship games, compared to 2019. The Nielsen company said 42.8 million people watched the San Francisco 49ers beat the Green Bay Packers to punch their Super Bowl ticket, and 41.1 million people watched Kansas City beat Tennessee. Both conference championship games went into overtime last year, and the audiences were 44.2 million and 53.9 million, Nielsen said. By contrast, this year's games were one-sided. LSU's win over Clemson in the college football national championship game was seen by 25.6 million on ESPN, Nielsen said. That's a little over a million more than last year's game reached. With the benefit of an NFL game in prime time, Fox led all the broadcast networks in ratings last week, averaging 9.9 million viewers. CBS had 4.9 million viewers in prime time, NBC had 4.2 million, ABC had 3.8 million, Univision had 1.6 million, ION Television had 1.3 million, Telemundo had 890,000 and the CW had 790,000. ESPN led the cable networks, averaging 4.28 million viewers in prime time. Fox News Channel averaged 2.75 million, MSNBC had 1.86 million, CNN had 1.46 million and TLC had 1.18 million. ABC's “World News Tonight” led the evening news ratings race, averaging 9.3 million viewers last week. NBC's “Nightly News” had 8.1 million viewers and the “CBS Evening News” had 5.9 million viewers. The top 20 programs as measured by Nielsen last week, their network and viewership: 1. NFC Championship: Green Bay at San Francisco, Fox, 42.79 million. 2. “NFL Post-Game” (9:44 to 9:49 p.m. Eastern), Fox, 31.29 million. 3. College Football Championship: Clemson vs. LSU, ESPN, 25.58 million. 4. “NFL Post-Game” (9:50 to 10:04 p.m. Eastern), Fox, 23.92 million. 5. “College Football Post-Game,” ESPN, 16.7 million. 6. “Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time, Match 4,” ABC, 13.55 million. 7. “911: Lone Star,” Fox, 11.41 million. 8. “NCIS,” CBS, 10.13 million. 9. “Young Sheldon,” CBS, 8.88 million. 10. “FBI,” CBS, 8.57 million 11. “Chicago Med,” NBC, 8.45 million. 12. “Chicago Fire,” NBC, 8.17 million. 13. “60 Minutes,” CBS, 8.1 million. 14. “Democratic Debate,” CNN, 7.4 million. 15. “Chicago PD,” NBC, 6.78 million. 16. “This is Us,” NBC, 6.73 million. 17. “America's Got Talent Champions,” NBC, 6.53 million. 18. “FBI: Most Wanted,” CBS, 6.52 million. 19. “Mom,” CBS, 6.3 million. 20. “Democratic Debate Analysis,” CNN, 5.77 million.
  • Africa's reputed richest woman is a formal suspect in an investigation into mismanagement and the siphoning off of funds during her time with Angola's state-run oil company, the country's attorney general announced Wednesday. The remarks by Helder Pitta Gros to reporters in the capital, Luanda, come days after a global investigation accused the billionaire Isabel dos Santos of murky dealings in the oil- and diamond-rich southern African nation whose people remain some of the poorest on Earth. Wednesday's announcement is the latest sign that Angola's government under President Joao Lourenco is determined to pursue accountability after the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists accused dos Santos of using “unscrupulous deals” to build her fortune, estimated at $2 billion. Dos Santos, daughter of Angola's former president, has denied any wrongdoing. Already Angolan authorities this week have said they are reaching out to other countries for help in tackling the corruption that critics say has robbed millions of citizens of basic needs like quality health care. And businesses are cutting ties. Portuguese bank EuroBic this week said it will stop doing business with companies and people linked to dos Santos, its main shareholder. In a new statement Wednesday, the bank said dos Santos had decided to sell her stake in the institution. The allegations in the investigation were based on more than 715,000 confidential financial and business records provided by the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa, an advocacy group based in Paris, as well as hundreds of interviews. The cache of documents is known as Luanda Leaks. Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Isabel's father, ruled Angola for 38 years until 2017. Human rights groups have long accused him of stealing vast amounts of state money during his rule. Before stepping down, he appointed his daughter head of the state oil company, Sonangol. Last December, a Luanda court froze Isabel dos Santos' major assets, which include banks and a telecom company. The government says it is trying to recover $1.1 billion it says the country is owed by dos Santos, her husband and a close associate of the couple. Dos Santos has said the legal action against her is a “witch hunt” launched by officials who replaced her father.
  • China is stealing “massive amounts” of data from Western companies and Iran has stolen data from some 200 universities, the top U.S. cybersecurity diplomat said Wednesday . Robert Strayer, deputy assistant secretary of state for cyber and international communications, said in Paris that the data theft “happens on a regular basis.” Over the last few years, the Chinese “compromised the largest of the global service providers and cloud providers ... and they use that to gain access to the corporate databases of major, large companies,” he told reporters. The stolen data is “in some cases” given to private industry within China “to compete against” the companies they stole from, Strayer said. “So that happens on a regular basis,” he added. Strayer was in Paris along with a Justice Department official to convince France not to use Huawei technology from China, at least in the sensitive core of their networks, due to security risks. Turning to Iran, he said that “almost 200 universities” have been victims of data theft, with research and other work snatched, via a group called the Mabna Institute. Mabna is described by the FBI as a private government contractor that works for the Iranian government “at the behest of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.” In 2018, the FBI put out a wanted poster for nine Iranian nationals indicted by a New York grand jury, all allegedly linked to the Mabna Institute in a scheme to obtain and steal data from computer systems and sell the stolen data to the Iranian government, Iranian universities and others. The notice said 144 U.S. universities and 176 others in 21 countries were among victims, which also included five federal and state agencies.
  • The head of Hallmark's media business is leaving the company after 11 years, just a month after its flagship Hallmark Channel faced an outcry over a decision to pull an ad with a lesbian couple kissing. No reason was given for Bill Abbott's departure, and no replacement was immediately named. In a statement, Mike Perry, president and CEO of Hallmark Cards Inc., said that with immense competition from TV networks and streaming services, it is important for the company to find “relevant new ways to grow our business.” Abbott was CEO of Crown Media Family Networks, a company controlled by Hallmark Cards. Crown Media's flagship cable channel is The Hallmark Channel, known for family-friendly programming, particularly made-for-TV Christmas-themed movies. In December, the Hallmark Channel's decision to pull an ad featuring the same-sex couple led to an outcry online. The company later reversed the decision. Crown Media also operates the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, Hallmark Drama networks, subscription streaming service Hallmark Movies Now and e-book publishing division Hallmark Publishing.
  • A Canadian justice department lawyer said Wednesday that fraud, not sanctions, is the crucial element for a judge to consider when deciding if a senior executive of Chinese tech giant Huawei should be extradited to the United States. This week's hearings deal with the question of whether the U.S. charges against Meng Wanzhou are crimes in Canada as well. Her lawyers argue the case is really about U.S. sanctions against Iran, not a fraud case. They maintain since Canada does not have similar sanctions against Iran, no fraud occurred. Washington accuses Huawei of using a Hong Kong shell company to sell equipment to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. It says Meng, 47, committed fraud by misleading the HSBC bank about the company's business dealings in Iran. “Lying to a bank in order to get banking services that creates a risk of economic prejudice is fraud,” Canadian Department of Justice lawyer Robert Frater told Justice Heather Holmes. “Your job is to determine if there is evidence before you capable of amounting to some evidence of fraud.” Canada arrested Huawei's chief financial officer and the daughter of its founder in December 2018 in Vancouver as she was changing flights at America's request. Beijing views Meng's case as an attempt to contain China's rise. Huawei represents China's progress in becoming a technological power and has been a subject of U.S. security concerns for years. Her lawyers say even if Meng made false statements to HSBC, the bank would not have faced any risk in Canada due to the absence of sanctions. But Frater argued among other things, Meng’s misrepresentations put HSBC reputation at risk for dealing with Iran. “Businesses worry about their reputation because a bad reputation can lead to economic loss,” he said. He said the U.S. sanctions were the reason for the meeting with the bank, but it was the alleged misrepresentation that matters to the United States. Meng, who is free on bail and living in one of the two Vancouver mansions she owns, sat next to the court interpreter. She listened to the proceedings with her head down studying documents. Meng denies the U.S. allegations. The U.S. Department of Justice has stressed that Meng's case is separate from the wider China-U.S. trade dispute. Huawei is the biggest global supplier of network gear for cellphone and internet companies. Washington is pressuring other countries to limit use of its technology, warning they could be opening themselves up to surveillance and theft. The first phase of the extradition hearing is expected to last through the end of the day on Thursday. The second phase, scheduled for June, will consider defense allegations that Canada Border Services, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the FBI violated Meng's rights while collecting evidence before she was actually arrested. In apparent retaliation for Meng's arrest, China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor. China has also placed restrictions on various Canadian exports to China, including canola oil seed and meat. Last January, China also handed a death sentence to a convicted Canadian drug smuggler in a sudden retrial.
  • The meteoric rise of Tesla shares that recently pushed the company's value over $100 billion could turn into a supercharged payday for CEO Elon Musk. Stock in Tesla Inc. rose another 4.1% Wednesday, pushing the market value of the electric vehicle and solar panel maker past a critical milestone in Musk's pay package. He could get a stock options package worth over $371 million. Tesla shares closed at $569.56 on Wednesday, giving the company a market capitalization of $102.7 billion. Shares have tripled in value since May, meaning Tesla's market capitalization now exceeds the value of Ford and General Motors, combined. For Musk, hitting $100 billion in market value triggers an option to buy 1.69 million shares of Tesla stock for $350.02 per share. If he sells the shares, he would make just over $371 million. But for the options to vest, the market capitalization has to average above $100 billion for the next six months, and it has to be above $100 billion for the next 30 business days, according to the compensation packages detailed in company filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Musk could get more stock payouts for every additional $50 billion increase in market capitalization. By meeting ambitious market capitalization and operational milestones, he could earn more than $50 billion over the next decade if that value hits $650 billion. In the third quarter, Tesla posted a surprising $143 million profit, raising hopes that the company, which also makes battery storage units, could finally be turning the corner to profitability. But Tesla has posted mostly losses during its first decade as a publicly held company, and it lost $1.1 billion during the first half of last year. The company reports fourth-quarter results on Jan. 29. Earlier this year the company said it delivered a record of about 112,000 vehicles in the fourth quarter and about 367,500 for the full year in 2019. Tesla, based in Palo Alto, California, had earlier projected deliveries of between 360,000 and 400,000 units worldwide. Also, on Wednesday, the state of Michigan confirmed that Tesla had reached a lawsuit settlement allowing it to sell and service vehicles in the state.