Shell bails on Convent

Shell bails on Convent

Louisiana’s petrochemical industry, in a slump since oil prices plummeted in 2014, took a major hit on Thursday when Shell announced it was shuttering its refinery in Convent. The announcement means the loss of 1,100 jobs – 700 Shell workers and 400 contract employees. It’s only the latest bad news for an industry that has struggled to adjust to a rapidly changing global energy market where investment is flowing to renewables at the expense of old fossil-fuel technology. Kristen Mosbrucker reports for The Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate

The U.S. oil and gas industry has struggled in recent years with low oil prices pushing down profits. The refining business in particular was hit hard during the coronavirus pandemic, with airline travel coming to a near halt and people working remotely from home rather than commuting to their jobs or being furloughed or laid off from work. … There’s been significant concern about the long-term financial success of oil businesses and whether institutional investors are willing to lend more money for fossil fuel plant work or would rather invest in cleaner energy projects. 

Meanwhile, the Illuminator’s Wesley Muller reports that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has suspended its permit for the proposed Formosa Plastics facility in St. James Parish. The $9.4 billion factory is expected to pump out 800 tons of toxic air pollution each year, and has drawn strong opposition from environmental justice advocates around the country and along the state’s petrochemical corridor. 


Getting to Graduation
An estimated 653,000 Louisianans have earned some college credits but stopped short of obtaining a degree. The Complete Louisiana program, launched last year by the University of Louisiana System, aims to lure these students back to campus so they can get credentials that put them on a path to a better job. A Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate editorial explains that the program is producing encouraging early results, even amid the challenges wrought by the pandemic. 

Here’s one ingredient that’s fostering the program’s success: participation of “coaches” who work with individual students by evaluating their transcripts, explaining available courses of study, deciphering higher education jargon and suggesting ways of securing financial assistance. This cadre of coaches gives students this personal comfort in a 90,000-student university system — the benefit of human contact and understanding. For some prospective students, returning to school after years away might prove unnerving or even daunting. Coaches salve troubled souls of returning students who might be intimidated by new online processes, new academic standards or even by taking their first remote courses. 


The surprise “Covid” fee
In the absence of a comprehensive federal response to Covid-19, health care providers are facing shortfalls caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Now, providers are turning to patients to make up the gap. A New York Times investigation shows that people across the country are seeing surprise “Covid” and “PPE” fees on their medical bills. Sarah Kliff and Jessica Silver-Greenburg of the Times’ Upshot blog explain how these fees can take advantage of vulnerable people – like the mother of Michael Hambley –  and possibly violate consumer protection laws.

Mr. Hambley, whose mother faced the $900 charge at her assisted living facility in Portage, Mich., had a particular reason to be skeptical: He works in the industry, running a continuous care facility in another state. Some of the extra charges, including an $11 daily lunch fee, stood out, especially because his mother had been complaining about the quality of lunches since the start of the pandemic. “It seemed like this was an opportunity to take advantage of a population that is already vulnerable,” Mr. Hambley said. “They have no visits, no engagement. And on top of that they are scared.”


Gloomy job numbers
The U.S. economy added 638,000 jobs in October and the unemployment rate dropped by a full percentage point. But economists say those numbers, rather than portending good news, signal a slowing economic recovery amid Congress’ failure to pass a much-needed additional round of stimulus funding. The Washington Post’s Eli Rosenberg

The snapshot of the country’s economic health in October arrives at a portentous moment. The U.S. economy has recovered two-thirds of the ground it lost during the first half of the year, and yet has a long way to go and remains vulnerable, economists have said. Coronavirus cases have spiked to record heights, with two straight days of more than 100,000 new cases, and epidemiologists warning about the worst yet to come. Meanwhile, the presidential election hangs in balance, as the count to determine a winner — and bring closure to a brutal and wrenching political contest — is ongoing.

Number of the Day

6.9% – U.S. unemployment rate, down from 7.9% in September but still far above the pre-Covid-19 levels. (Source: Washington Post)