These Middle East flashpoints could trigger regional conflict that impacts oil prices

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Why oil is down since the Hamas-Israel conflict started and whether that can last

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Retailers urge Congress to crack down on theft, as industry ramps up lobbying effort

Representatives from more than 30 retailers joined a major industry lobbying group on Capitol Hill on Thursday, as they ramped up pressure to pass a law that backers say will curb retail theft.

The National Retail Federation escalated its campaign to rally support for the bill, known as the Combating Organized Retail Crime Act, which would make it easier to prosecute theft as a federal felony and set up a system for governments to share resources on crime. The retail lobby group dubbed its event “Fight Retail Crime Day.”

Before holding individual meetings with retail officials, the bill’s co-sponsors joined NRF CEO Matthew Shay in a press conference outside the Capitol — where they framed the legislation as critical to retailers’ bottom lines and their employees’ safety.

“You also have to recognize, this is not just the theft, but the danger to the employees, the cost to the consumers, and then the impact upon the individual retailer,” one of the bill’s co-sponsors Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said at a press conference. “[Organized retail crime] has to be dealt with in a comprehensive way. And that’s what our legislation is all about.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, speaking at a press conference for the lobby group’s “Fight Retail Crime Day.”

Courtney Reagan | CNBC

Organized retail crime is different from shoplifting. The NRF defines it as “the large-scale theft of retail merchandise with the intent to resell the items for financial gain.” It usually involves multiple people who steal large amounts of goods from a range of stores, which a so-called fencing operation then sells, according to the group.

The NRF and individual retailers have spoken more than ever in recent months about how retail crime affects their profits, their employees and their customers. Target even cited the trend as it announced it would close nine stores.

Despite those comments, a survey released by the NRF last month found retailers’ losses from theft are largely in line with historical trends, but most respondents reported violence associated with the acts is getting worse. Much of companies’ lost inventory can also come from internal theft or management issues, as William Blair analysts wrote in a research note Thursday.

Even so, the industry has pushed for federal and state laws that aim to crack down on crime. Retailers continued their campaign for policy changes in Washington on Thursday.

The Combating Organized Retail Crime Act was reintroduced earlier this year. It seeks to create a new multi-agency group under the Department of Homeland Security that would pool information and intelligence from many states and local law enforcement sources. Officials want to better detect, track and prosecute members of organized crime rings with new federal standards. 

American Eagle Outfitters chief global asset protection officer Scott McBride, who is meeting with lawmakers to rally support for the law, pointed to the collaboration as a major benefit of the proposal.

“That’s one of the main purposes that allows us to have a charter within a federal agency to actually help us create a clearinghouse to aggregate properly to investigate more efficiently and more in depth,” he said.

While retailers say organized retail crime could lead to higher prices for shoppers and store closures, many of the co-sponsors are focused on what retailers have said is escalating violence associated with the theft.

The NRF’s national retail security survey showed two-thirds of retail respondents reported seeing increased levels of violence and aggression from ORC offenders in 2022 compared with 2021. In the 2021 survey, 81% of respondents reported more violence than in the year prior.

McBride noted that some areas of the country have had a harder time hiring and retaining store employees because of the increase in violence. Most retail store employees are instructed not to intervene when theft is taking place because of the risk of violence.

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., told about a recent incident she witnessed in a Walgreens.

“The person came up with a backpack and just started scraping eyelashes into the backpack and walked out,” she said at the press conference. “I said to the sales lady, ‘Did you see what that guy just did?’ She said, ‘Yeah, he comes in here two or three times a week and we can’t do anything about it because management is afraid somebody might get hurt.'” 

The industry has also focused on the amount of stolen goods needed to prosecute as a felony depending on the location. Trade groups have said many crime rings know the law, and steal just enough to stay below it in each incident.

National Retail Federation CEO Matthew Shay speaking at a press conference for the lobby group’s “Fight Retail Crime Day.”

Courtney Reagan | CNBC

The bill would establish a new federal felony threshold that is also aggregated over any 12-month period rather than a threshold per incident.

“What this legislation will do, is allow prosecutors in the states, if they choose to, to pursue a federal remedy, instead of, or in addition to, a state remedy, when certain thresholds get met,” Shay told CNBC. “So if the total dollar value of the stolen guards exceeds $5,000 in a single year, local prosecutors can pursue a federal charge.”

Some criminal justice experts have questioned whether lowering the threshold will reduce crime, and said enacting stiffer penalties could potentially hurt marginalized groups.

While the members of Congress at the press conference, along with retail representatives and the NRF, acknowledge there is wide support for the measure, time is ticking on the legislative year to move it forward to committee and beyond.

McBride acknowledges passage of the bill would not be a panacea, but “it just adds another layer … to help the retailer and disincentivize the bad guys from using [organized retail crime] as a means for financing their criminal activities.”

The Combating Organized Retail Crime Act would follow another law known as the INFORM Act that went into effect at the end of June, which requires online marketplaces to verify the identity of their sellers with the goal of deterring the sale of stolen or counterfeit goods. Retailers that don’t comply will face fines.

When asked Thursday, Shay said it’s still too early to tell what the effects of the new legislation will be.

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Trump attacks judge in NY fraud case who fined him $15,000

Former U.S. President Donald Trump attends the Trump Organization civil fraud trial, in New York State Supreme Court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., October 25, 2023. 

Jeenah Moon | Reuters

Former President Donald Trump on Thursday railed against the judge who will deliver verdicts in his $250 million New York fraud trial, one day after storming out of the courtroom in the middle of witness testimony.

Trump’s fusillade on Truth Social followed a dramatic trial day in which Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron put Trump on the witness stand, fined him $10,000 for violating his gag order and shot down a request for a sweeping verdict in his favor.

The latest attacks show Trump, a prolific social media user who is running for president again in the 2024 election, turning to the court of public opinion to fight his mounting legal challenges.

But his efforts are constrained by gag orders in two separate cases, including special counsel Jack Smith’s federal case charging Trump with conspiring to subvert his loss to President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.

In that case, Trump is prohibited from publicly targeting Smith or potential witnesses, both of whom he has frequently referenced online and on the campaign trail. When those restrictions were temporarily paused last week, Trump fired off attacks against both the special counsel and his former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, a witness in Smith’s case.

In the New York civil fraud case, meanwhile, Engoron has already ruled twice that Trump violated his narrow gag order, which merely bars him from attacking the judge’s staff.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump is questioned by Judge Arthur F. Engoron before being fined $10,000 for violating a gag order for a second time, during the Trump Organization civil fraud trial in New York State Supreme Court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., October 25, 2023 in this courtroom sketch. 

Jane Rosenberg | Reuters

Upon finding that Trump’s testimony rang “hollow and untrue,” Engoron has now fined him a total of $15,000. The judge has warned Trump that additional violations will yield much more severe sanctions — including possible imprisonment.

With his targets narrowing, Trump’s attacks appear to be intensifying.

In at least four lengthy social media posts on Thursday, Trump ripped Engoron as a “tyrannical and unhinged” and “fully biased Trump Hater” who “should be ashamed of himself” for his handling of the case.

“HE HAS GONE CRAZY IN HIS HATRED OF ‘TRUMP,'” wrote the former president, who also railed against New York Attorney General Letitia James, his ex-attorney Michael Cohen and a New York Times reporter.

Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign, meanwhile, sought to capitalize on the case by criticizing it in multiple fundraising pleas as a “sham trial” led by a “Democrat judge” who “continues to harass” Trump.

Engoron has already found Trump and other defendants liable for fraudulently inflating the values of real estate properties and key assets on years of financial statements. James, who brought the case, accuses Trump, his two adult sons, the Trump Organization and top executives of falsifying those asset values for a host of financial perks, including tax benefits and more favorable loan terms.

The trial, which is scheduled to last until late December, will resolve six other claims in James’ lawsuit. Engoron himself will deliver verdicts in the trial, which is being conducted without a jury — a fact Trump frequently protests on social media and at the courthouse.

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“He is a judge that found me GUILTY before the trial even started,” Trump said of Engoron in his social media screed Thursday.

The posts also called Engoron a “Radical Left Judge” and claimed that he is ignoring a prior appeals court ruling “overturning” his decisions. A New York appeals court panel last month had cleared the trial to begin, denying Trump’s request to delay it.

Engoron had imposed a narrow gag order on Trump on the second day of the trial, after Trump sent a Truth Social post attacking the judge’s law clerk, Allison Greenfield, who sits next to him in court.

About two weeks later, the judge found that Trump violated that gag order by failing to remove the post from his campaign website. Engoron fined Trump $5,000 in that instance and warned him that future violations would yield more severe sanctions, potentially including imprisonment.

During a break in the trial Wednesday, Trump complained to reporters outside the courtroom, “This judge is a very partisan judge with a person who’s very partisan sitting alongside him, perhaps even more partisan than he is.”

Former U.S. President Donald Trump attends the Trump Organization civil fraud trial, in New York State Supreme Court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, October 25, 2023.

Jeenah Moon | Reuters

After hearing about those remarks, Engoron briefly called Trump to the witness stand to explain himself.

Trump said that he was referring to Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, who had been testifying throughout the trial day. But Engoron found that answer unconvincing, and he fined Trump $10,000.

“Don’t do it again or it will be worse,” Engoron warned in court.

In his written order Thursday morning, Engoron ruled that Trump intentionally violated the gag order. He noted that Cohen was sitting in the witness box, not alongside him, and said that Trump’s past attacks on Cohen have been less ambiguous.

“Using imprecise language as an excuse to create plausible ambiguity about whether defendant violated this Court’s unequivocal gag order is not a defense; the subject of Donald Trump’s public statement to the press was unmistakably clear,” the judge wrote.

The clash over the gag order was not the only contentious moment in the trial on Wednesday.

Defense lawyer Cliff Robert had asked for a directed verdict after Cohen, Trump’s once-loyal aide who is now a key witness against him, testified that he did not recall if Trump had asked him to inflate the values of his assets. Engoron denied the request, prompting Trump to get up and leave.

Cohen later clarified that while Trump speaks in indirect ways like a “mob boss,” he did communicate the outcome he wanted, according to NBC News.

Engoron rejected another request for a directed verdict later in the day, telling Robert, “there’s enough evidence in this case to fill the courtroom.”

On social media, Trump complained, “The unhinged Judge, a highly political and fully biased Trump Hater, refused to dismiss this HOAX of a case, and has lost all CREDIBILITY.”

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Why the hydrogen tax credit has become a lightning rod for controversy

A rendering of a hydrogen energy storage gas tank for clean electricity solar and wind turbine facility.3d rendering

Vanit Janthra | Istock | Getty Images

One of the most generous tax credits in Biden’s landmark climate bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, is the production tax credit for making hydrogen, which is worth as much as $100 billion.

When hydrogen is used in a fuel cell to generate electricity, water is the only by-product. Generating energy from hydrogen this way does not create carbon dioxide, one of the primary greenhouse gases that causes global warming. Also, hydrogen is a vehicle for storing energy over long periods of time.

Hydrogen is already produced at scale for use in making fertilizer and in the petrochemical industry. But more recently, hydrogen is being seen as a way to decarbonize industries like maritime shipping, long-haul trucking, steel-making, industrial heating, and aerospace. Also, its capacity as an effective way of storing energy makes it attractive for renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, which are inherently intermittent — wind turbines make energy when the wind blows, and solar panels make energy when the sun shines.

However, the only way hydrogen can be a viable solution for reducing carbon emissions is if it can be produced without releasing greenhouse gas emissions. By and large, that’s not the case today.

The proposed tax credit, 45V, is meant to turbocharge the production of low-emissions hydrogen. It’s now up to the Treasury to figure out how to implement it — and that’s the tricky part. The debate centers around how best to write rules that make sure that the hydrogen produced is actually clean so that it can be used as a climate-mitigation tool.

“The IRA’s section 45V production tax credit is the most generous clean hydrogen subsidy in the world,” Jesse Jenkins, professor of macro-scale energy systems at Princeton University, told CNBC.

“But without proper implementation, 45V could backfire, wasting a tremendous opportunity for the United States to become a global leader in new clean industries and causing a significant increase in domestic emissions that imperil U.S. climate goals.”

An Hydrogen prototype GenH2 truck of the Daimler Truck Holding AG arrives at his destination in Berlin, on September 26, 2023, after completing 1047kms with one liquid hydrogen full tank.

John Macdougall | Afp | Getty Images

The adjudication of the hydrogen tax credit has become about more than just the hydrogen tax credit, too. It could also set important precedents for how the government decides electricity used from the grid is really “clean.”

“The hydrogen debate is at its surface level about defining clean hydrogen production, but more fundamentally it’s about what an individual actor needs to do to credibly claim that their electricity consumption is clean,” Wilson Ricks, who works in Jenkins’ Zero-carbon Energy systems Research and Optimization research lab at Princeton, told CNBC.

“Hydrogen is the first time the US government has been forced to directly address the question of verifying clean electricity inputs, so whatever framework it endorses here could set a very strong example for other emissions accounting systems going forward,” Ricks said.

There’s a lot of money on the line and while the details of the debate get a bit wonky, the debate itself represents a larger and more ideological fault line about how the United States should built its clean economy: One side says we should focus on emissions reductions from the outset, while the other says the foundation should be built and scaled quickly and perfected later.

“We have now entered a new phase in the clean energy transition, whereby new solutions and operational paradigms are necessary to accommodate an increasingly renewable grid and catalyze decarbonization. The clean hydrogen tax credits are a major opportunity, and juncture, to start shaping that new phase in the right way,” Rachel Fakhry, the policy director for emerging technologies at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told CNBC.

How clean is ‘clean,’ and how is that decided?

Hydrogen is the simplest element and the most abundant substance in the universe, but hydrogen atoms do not exist on their own on Earth. Hydrogen atoms are generally stuck to other atoms — like for example in water, H2O — and so creating sources of pure hydrogen on Earth requires energy to break those molecular bonds.

In the energy business, people refer to hydrogen by an array of colors to as shorthand for how it was produced. The different methods produce varying amounts of CO2.

The amount of the hydrogen tax credit, which is available for 10 years, depends on the emissions generated in making hydrogen. If hydrogen is produced without releasing any carbon emissions, the tax credit is maxed out at $3 per kilogram of hydrogen. The tax credit scales down proportionally based on the quantity of emissions released.

One way of making hydrogen is with a process called electrolysis, when electricity is passed through a substance to force a chemical change — in this case, splitting H2O into hydrogen and oxygen. To make hydrogen with electrolysis, hydrogen producers may use electricity from the larger energy grid. The electricity on the grid comes from many sources, some clean, like a solar farm, and some dirty, like from a coal-fired plant. On the electric grid, all that electricity gets mixed together.

So the debate over the 45V tax credit has become acutely focused on accounting for how the electricity hydrogen producers use from the grid is accounted for. If the energy used to make hydrogen is not actually clean, then hydrogen is not really a climate solution.

Some hydrogen industry stakeholders want the Treasury to implement strict electricity accounting standards to maximize the likelihood that the tax credits only go to hydrogen that is produced with the least possible amount of emissions.

Others want the Treasury to implement very flexible standards so the hydrogen industry can grow as fast as possible as quickly as possible, then focus on emissions reduction once it’s scaled.

Energy used from the grid to power electrolysis to make clean, “green hydrogen” must meet three accounting standards in order to ensure that it is actually produced in a clean way, according to Jenkins from Princeton. These standards have become known as the “three pillars:”

  • Additionality. The electricity has to come from newly-built sources of clean electricity, meaning it is additional clean energy being added to the grid for the purpose of making hydrogen.
  • Regional deliverability. The clean electricity added to the grid has to be able to physically travel from the additional clean energy source to the electrolysis facility, meaning it is regionally deliverable electricity.
  • Hourly matching. The additional and deliverable clean electricity that powers electrolyzers has to be accounted for on an hourly basis. If the electricity is accounted for on an annual basis, then electrolyzers used to generate hydrogen could be running when additional clean energy is not regionally available — when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, for example. That means those electrolyzers could be powered by fossil fuels.

“We call these requirements ‘pillars’ because all three are structurally critical: remove any one and the whole ‘clean’ hydrogen house comes tumbling down,” Jenkins told CNBC.

Peer-reviewed modeling work by our group and follow-up studies by other academics have shown that simply plugging electrolyzers into the grid would produce hydrogen with embodied emissions twice as bad as ‘grey’ hydrogen produced from fossil methane. In fact, even an electrolyzer getting just 2% of its electricity from natural gas plants or less than 1% from coal would violate the strict statutory emissions requirements to claim the $3 per kilogram subsidy,” Jenkins said.

Taking sides

Some companies in the hydrogen industry, including electrolyzer producer Electric Hydrogen, clean energy company Intersect Power, industrial heat and power company Rondo, and grid carbon data provider Singularity have publicly pleaded for the Treasury to adopt these “three pillars” of strict electricity accounting for the 45V hydrogen tax credit.

Digital generated image of wind turbines, solar panels and Hydrogen containers standing on landscape against blue sky.

Andriy Onufriyenko | Moment | Getty Images

Air Products, an 80-year old company that sells gases and chemicals for industrial uses, also supports the three pillars of additionality, regional deliverability and hourly matching for the 45V tax credits. Air Products operates in about 50 countries around the globe, has over 200,000 customers, over 110 production facilities around the globe for hydrogen, and already has over 700 miles of dedicated hydrogen pipelines.

“We’ve been producing, distributing, dispensing hydrogen for over 60 years,” Eric Guter, a vice president of hydrogen production at Air Products, told CNBC in a video interview at the end of August.

“If we don’t deliver on the emissions reduction, we will lose the confidence of society in hydrogen and the energy transition. And as a long-term provider of hydrogen, it’s important to us that we get it right and preserve the integrity of the energy transition and the hydrogen industry.”

Josef Kallo, founder and chief executive officer of H2FLY, beside the HY4 liquid hydrogen powered electric aircraft at Maribor airport in Slovenia, on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023. The aircraft, developed by H2FLY and partners, uses liquid hydrogen to power a hydrogen-electric fuel cell system.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Air Products already has two projects under construction that will be compliant with the three-pillars approach. Air Products is part owner of the NEOM Green Hydrogen Company, which is currently building a plant at Oxagon, Saudi Arabia, and which will be three pillars complaint. It’s also part owner of a mega-scale renewable-power-to-hydrogen project in Wilbarger County, Texas.

The European Union will need to import hydrogen, and has already decided to institute the “three pillars” in its hydrogen accounting, Guter told CNBC. So Air Products wants hydrogen produced in the United States to meet international standards.

“Otherwise our products won’t qualify or they will be taxed at the EU border for imports,” Guter said. “We’re talking about a global liftoff, not just U.S. liftoff, of the hydrogen market.”

On the other side of the debate, utility company and energy giant NextEra wants the Treasury to accept annual — as opposed to hourly — matching RECs as sufficiently specific.

“Starting with annual matching would boost green hydrogen investment and lead to greater overall decarbonization potential, allowing the industry to develop the first wave of hydrogen projects and build industry knowledge. If an hourly matching is enacted too early, it will limit U.S. green hydrogen investment, production and the country’s ability to lower emissions, and stifle innovation,” Phil Musser, vice president of federal government affairs at NextEra Energy, told CNBC in a written statement from.   

So, too, does the Clean Hydrogen Future Coalition, which is a trade group representing a diversity of stakeholders from BP to Duke Energy, Exxon Mobile, General Electric, Siemens Energy, American Clean Power, Shell and more. The Clean Hydrogen Future Coalition also says that no additionality should be required for companies looking to produce clean hydrogen, meaning companies do not have to be responsible for putting “additional” clean energy on the grid to get access to the tax credit.

“We’re not suggesting that we should do this indefinitely,” Shannon Angielski, president of the Clean Hydrogen Future Coalition, told CNBC in a video interview at the end of August. “Rather, let the industry start to make investments in that full ecosystem, send signals throughout that supply chain to make investments, and enable an industry to get seeded with the tax credits, and then over time, become more restrictive.”

The Clean Hydrogen Future Coalition proposes becoming more restrictive in those electricity accounting standards starting in 2030. The electricity accounting systems for monitoring electricity usage on a more granular level is not robust and standardized enough on a federal level, Angielski said, for hourly matching electricity accounting to be required.

But technology does exist to allow hourly matching, Wenbo Shi, the CEO of Singularity, told CNBC. His company makes that technology.

“Hourly and even sub-hourly clean energy matching is not only technologically feasible, but it is already being implemented and used by many. The barrier to adoption is not technology, but policy,” Shi told CNBC.

There are also barriers to getting additional sources of clean energy on the electric grid, Angielski told CNBC. For example, interconnection queues, which are the lines power generators have to wait on to apply to get new sources of clean energy connected to the grid, are years long and make the additionality requirement a barrier for the hydrogen industry.

“What we don’t want to do is wait to be able to actually start investing in low-carbon hydrogen,” Angielski said.

But Ricks doesn’t think there needs to be such a rush.

“The ‘order of operations’ for the energy transition has always been a subject of debate in the policy world: should we use our resources to push rapid near-term decarbonization, or instead support scale-up of nascent technologies that we think we’ll need in the future? Supporters of lax rules for hydrogen subsidies have sought to frame the debate in this way, but in this case it is a false choice,” Ricks told CNBC. “The hydrogen subsidies are large enough to support scale-up even with strict rules, and the absence of these rules would likely drive significant excess emissions for decades — hardly a near-term impact.”

Fakhry from the NRDC says it’s very possible that the IRA is going to incentivize more hydrogen than needed for the clean energy transition, especially depending on how the Treasury dictates the rules.

“It’s really hard to say if there will be excess or not. What we can say for sure is if the rules are very, very lax and hydrogen production can happen anywhere without any guardrails, then yes, we will have a lot of hydrogen production that will go to fairly bad end uses,” Fakhry told CNBC.

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UAW strike brings blue-collar vs. billionaire battle to Detroit

DETROIT — The United Auto Workers strike is bringing a blue-collar versus billionaire battle to the Motor City, just as UAW President Shawn Fain wanted.

The outspoken union leader has weaponized striking — historically a last resort for the union — after less than 24 hours into a work stoppage arguably better than any UAW president has in modern times.

It wasn’t by accident.

Fain, a quirky yet emboldened leader, has meticulously brought the UAW back into the national spotlight after decades of near irrelevance. He wants to represent not just union members but also America’s embattled middle class, which UAW helped create.

United Auto Workers union President Shawn Fain joins UAW members who are on a strike, on the picket line at the Ford Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan, September 15, 2023.

Rebecca Cook | Reuters

To do so, he has leveraged a yearslong national labor movement and a growing disgust for wealthy individuals and corporations among many Americans — starting with his first time addressing the union’s more than 400,000 members during his inauguration speech in March.

“We’re here to come together to ready ourselves for the war against our only one and only true enemy, multibillion-dollar corporations and employers who refuse to give our members their fair share,” Fain said at the time. “It’s a new day in the UAW.”

Fain’s comments Friday morning as he joined UAW members and supporters picketing outside a Ford plant in Michigan — one of three facilities the company is currently striking — echoed everything he said during that first speech.

“We got to do what we got to do to get our share of economic and social justice in this strike,” Fain said outside the Ford Bronco SUV and Ranger pickup plant. “We’re going to be out here until we get our share of economic justice. And it doesn’t matter how long it takes.”

Fain’s upbringing plays into his strong unionism and religious beliefs, which he has growingly talked about with members as he emphasizes “faith” in the UAW’s cause. Two of his grandparents were UAW GM retirees, and one grandfather started at Chrysler in 1937, the year the workers joined the union. Fain, who joined the UAW in 1994, even keeps one of his grandfather’s pay stubs in his wallet as “a reminder” of where he came from. 

National media and others really started paying attention to Fain when he said the union would withhold a reelection endorsement of President Joe Biden, who has called himself the “most pro-union president in history.” Fain and Biden have spoken and met, but the union leader has not shown much support for the president. In response to comments by the president Friday, Fain said: “Working people are not afraid. You know who’s afraid? The corporate media is afraid. The White House is afraid. The companies are afraid.”

While many past union leaders have talked such talk, Fain has thus far delivered on his promises to members without batting an eye — causing General Motors, Ford Motor and Stellantis to go into crisis mode this week as the UAW follows through on that promise to members.

“We’ve never seen anything like this; it’s frustrating,” Ford CEO Jim Farley told CNBC’s Phil LeBeau Thursday as he criticized Fain and the union for what he said was a lack of communication and counteroffers. “I don’t know what Shawn Fain is doing, but he’s not negotiating this contract with us, as it expires.”

In a statement Friday, Ford said that the UAW’s partial strike at its Michigan Assembly Plant has forced it to lay off about 600 workers.

“This is not a lockout,” Ford said. “This layoff is a consequence of the strike at Michigan Assembly Plant’s final assembly and paint departments, because the components built by these 600 employees use materials that must be e-coated for protection. E-coating is completed in the paint department, which is on strike.”

GM CEO Mary Barra echoed Farley’s feelings Friday morning on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

“I’m extremely frustrated and disappointed,” she said. “We don’t need to be on strike right now.”

Both CEOs said everything they could to indicate they believe Fain may not be bargaining in good faith without using those exact words, which could justify a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

The UAW in late August filed unfair labor practice charges against GM and Stellantis with the NLRB, alleging they did not bargain with the union in good faith or a timely manner. It did not file a complaint against Ford. GM and Stellantis have denied those allegations.

Ford CEO Jim Farley: No way we would be sustainable as a company with UAW's wage proposal

Several past union leaders and company bargainers who spoke to CNBC hailed the way Fain has been able to propel the UAW into the national spotlight, including pausing bargaining for a Friday rally and march with Sen. Bernie Sanders, the progressive lawmaker from Vermont. Sanders, whose surprise 2016 Democratic presidential primary win in Michigan helped cement his national prominence, has lent support to numerous labor movements around the country as he rails against the billionaire class.

“I think they’re just doing an outstanding job,” said respected former UAW President Bob King, who cited growing support for the union among the public and the union’s own members. “Both those measurements say that UAW communications has been outstanding.”

UAW members have taken notice — especially after many of them disdained union leadership during and after a yearslong federal corruption investigation that landed two past UAW presidents and more than a dozen others in prison.

“For all the years that I’ve worked here, it’s never been this strong,” said Anthony Dobbins, a 27-year autoworker, early Friday morning while picketing the Ford plant in Michigan. “This is going to make history right here because we are trying to get what we deserve.”

Dobbins, a UAW Local 600 union representative, balked at current record offers by the automakers that have included roughly 20% pay increases, thousands of dollars in bonuses, retention of the union’s platinum health care and other sweetened benefits.

“That’s not working for us. Give us what we asked for,” Dobbins said. “That’s what we want. We have to work seven days, overtime, just to make ends meet.”

United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain, center, poses with Anthony Dobbins, right, a 27-year autoworker, and others as the union pickets a Ford plant in Wayne, Michigan, Sept. 15, 2023.

Michael Wayland / CNBC

Key demands from the union have included 40% hourly pay increases; a reduced, 32-hour, workweek; a shift back to traditional pensions; the elimination of compensation tiers; and a restoration of cost-of-living adjustments. Other items on the table include enhanced retiree benefits and better vacation and family leave benefits.

Automakers have argued such demands would cripple the companies. Farley even said the company would have “gone bankrupt by now” under the union’s current proposals and members would not have benefited from $75,000 in average profit-sharing over the last decade.

Ford sources said the automaker would have lost $14.4 billion over the last four years if the current demands had been in effect, instead of recording nearly $30 billion in profits.

Such profits are exactly what Fain has said UAW members deserve to share in. But his strategy to get workers a larger piece of the pie carries great risks.

“This is not going to be positive from an industry perspective or for GM,” Barra said Friday.

Many outside the union believe if Fain pushes too hard, it could lead to long-term job losses for the union. A former high-ranking bargainer for one of the automakers told CNBC that it’s nearly guaranteed the companies cut union jobs through product allocation, plant closures or other means to offset increased labor costs.

“They’re going to have to pay up. The question is how much,” said the longtime bargainer, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity. “This ends up with fewer jobs. That’s how the automakers cut costs.”

Fain and other union leaders have argued that meeting the companies in the middle has led to dozens of plant closures, fewer union members and a growing divide between blue-collar workers and the wealthy.

So why not fight?

“This is about us doing what we got to do to take care of the working class,” Fain said Friday. “This isn’t just about the UAW. This is about working people everywhere in this country. No matter what you do for a living, you deserve your fair share of equity.”

GM CEO Mary Barra on UAW strike: We put a historic offer on the table

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OPEC+ prepares for weekend meeting after Saudi warns speculators to ‘watch out’

Led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, OPEC+ agreed in early October to reduce production by 2 million barrels per day from November.

Vladimir Simicek | Afp | Getty Images

The OPEC+ alliance of oil producers will decide further production policy steps over the weekend, as crude prices reflect an ongoing struggle between supply-demand fundamentals and broader macro-economic concerns.

After convening remotely throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, OPEC+ has returned to in-person meetings and will gather in Vienna on June 4. The OPEC ministers gather for a separate meeting unlikely to address output on June 3.

Ministers face an oil market rattled by supply volatility, demand uncertainty, and a prospective recession, which could throttle transport fuel consumption. Since October, OPEC+ — a 23-member alliance including heavyweights Russia and Saudi Arabia — has lowered output by 2 million barrels per day in an effort to combat lower demand. Some members have also announced additional voluntary cuts totaling 1.6 million barrels per day in April.

Group members are expected to coagulate their individual positions and proposals in the 24-48 hours before the meeting, some OPEC+ delegates told CNBC, speaking on condition of anonymity — while public comments so far have been conflicting.

On May 23, Saudi energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman warned oil market speculators they could face further pain ahead, in comments some have read as hinting further supply cuts could be in the cards.

“I keep advising [speculators] that they will be ouching. They did ouch in April. I don’t have to show my cards, I’m not [a] poker player … but I would just tell them, watch out,” he said at the time.

Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak later indicated that he expected no further steps from the OPEC+ meeting, but then said his comments were misinterpreted as downplaying an output cut, according to Russian state news agency Tass.

Russia and Saudi Arabia have been united in their public OPEC+ stance since a March 2020 dispute that led to the one-month dissolution of their oil partnership and an ensuing price war.

Moscow and Riyadh later mended ties through a new OPEC+ agreement to respond to a demand plunge driven by the Covid-19 pandemic — and have remained like-minded on OPEC+ matters since. Voiding the perception of a public rift, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on Thursday met on the sidelines of a BRICS summit in Cape Town.

The two reviewed the cooperation between their countries and “ways to strengthen & develop them in all fields, in addition to discussing the consolidation of bilateral & multilateral action,” according to the Saudi foreign ministry.

Two OPEC+ delegates, who did not want to be named due to the market sensitivity of the meeting, told CNBC that further output cuts were unlikely this weekend. One noted that this will remain the case unless demand stays low in China — where recovery has fallen short of expectations, in the wake of shedding strict Covid-19 restrictions.

A third source said that OPEC+, which prioritizes the state of global inventories over outright prices, would be comfortable with futures above $75 per barrel, while a fourth estimated near $70-80 per barrel.

Brent futures with August expiry were trading at $75.70 per barrel at 10:24 a.m. in London, up $1.42 per barrel from the Thursday settlement.

The OPEC+ group isn’t “after spikes” and seeks a “balanced market,” the fourth delegate told CNBC, stressing that the alliance must continue to strike a “precautionary” production strategy. Deep cuts also risk re-attracting U.S. ire, as Washington has historically criticized supply reductions that pile strain on consuming households.

‘Wait and see’?

Goldman Sachs’ analysts expect OPEC+ to keep production unchanged this weekend. However, they said in a note Wednesday that they see a “sizeable 35% subjective probability” of further OPEC cuts, as oil prices are “clearly below our $80-85/bbl estimate of the OPEC put. Very low positioning, the Saudi determination not to give speculators free rein, and the decision to meet in person also suggest that deeper cuts will likely be discussed.”

OPEC+ has waded stormy waters for the better part of the year. Oil markets have historically been steered by physical supply and demand fundamentals — which have been increasingly overshadowed by broader macro-economic concerns over the fuel consumption impact of high inflation, bolstering interest rates and the spring collapse of several U.S. and European banks.

OPEC+ delegates also said the group had been following U.S. debt ceiling negotiations, as the proposal of President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy transited several debate and vote stages in a bid for the world’s largest economy to avoid defaulting on its bills.

“The impact of higher oil prices on the global economy will weigh heavily on the ministers’ minds,” Jorge Leon, senior vice president of oil market research at Rystad Energy, said in a Thursday note, adding that OPEC+ could maintain production as a precaution. “The ministers might therefore take a ‘wait and see’ approach and hold off taking any action. Demand forecasts remain lukewarm at best, so maintaining current output could be the most prudent course. “

Supply is also under question, given involuntary declines.

Roughly 450,000 barrels per day of northern Iraqi exports were frozen by a legal dispute between Baghdad, Ankara, and the Kurdistan Regional Government. Nigeria, typically West Africa’s largest oil producer, self-reported its April crude production at just 999,000 barrels per day following disruptions, according to OPEC’s Monthly Oil Market Report for May.

Meanwhile, the true extent of Russian output losses remains unclear, as vessels carrying Moscow’s crude turn off their satellite tracking and Russia looks to further shift its clientele east.

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Turkey’s runoff election is paralyzing key oil exports from northern Iraq

A satellite image showing the port of Ceyhan centred on August 18, 2015 in Turkey.

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Turkey’s runoff election is compounding delays to restart roughly 450,000 barrels per day of Iraqi crude oil exports, as Ankara studies its relationship with Baghdad, analysts and market sources told CNBC.

Oil typically flows through Turkey from both the Iraqi state and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). More specifically, this Kirkuk crude flows down the Iraq-Turkey Pipeline linking the north of the Gulf country with Turkey’s Ceyhan port in the Mediterranean. But the flows have been paralyzed since March 25 by a legal dispute involving federal Iraq, the KRG and Turkey.

Resolution pends on the result of a second presidential vote this weekend, but a prolonged halt could reduce Iraqi crude production.

The KRG had previously trucked its crude exports across borders, until it linked its major oil-producing fields to the Iraq-Turkey pipeline and began shipping crude in 2014. Federal Baghdad denounced Erbil’s independent crude sales as illegal, threatening to ban customers of such supplies from purchasing Iraq’s larger Basra crude volumes.

After a nine-year suit, the International Chamber of Commerce’s Court of Arbitration in Paris found that Turkey violated the 1973 version of a pipeline transit agreement between Baghdad and Ankara over 2014-2018. Turkey was ordered to pay Iraq roughly $1.5 billion in damages, according to Reuters. A second arbitration suit covering 2018 to date is still ongoing.

The ICC verdict followed a domestic win for Baghdad, after Iraq’s federal court in February 2022 pronounced the KRG’s oil and gas legislation unconstitutional and invalidated its contracts with foreign firms. This decision led to U.S. companies deciding to exit contracts in Kurdistan and deterred some KRG oil buyers from further purchases.

Iraq’s oil minister Hayan Abdul-Ghani on May 23 said that Baghdad has informed Turkey it is able to restart flows through Ceyhan and awaits Ankara’s response.

“Our colleagues in Turkey said there are some evaluative issues that they have to take into account. And that resulted from the earthquake,” he said, noting that an Iraqi delegation will be sent at an unspecified time to Turkey to discuss the restart.

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Kirkuk crude is exported from the Botas terminal at Ceyhan in southern Turkey, separate from Azeri crude flows shipped out from the nearby Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan port terminal. Botas resumed loadings the day after the devastating earthquake of Feb. 6 that killed at least a combined 50,000 people in Turkey and Syria, according to the U.N. The BTC terminal suffered a longer outage.

Several trade, shipping and oil producing sources — who could only comment anonymously because of contractual obligations — told CNBC that, following a request from Baghdad, Ankara was widely expected to resume Kirkuk crude exports from Ceyhan on May 13 — a day before presidential elections in Turkey, whose inconclusive first round on May 14 stymied the oil’s resumption.

Presidential purview

The sources stressed that Turkish authorities are loathe to take responsibility for the restart, while incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fights primary rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu to prolong his roughly two-decade rule.

“The main issue with the resumption of the oil through Ceyhan is the elections ongoing in Turkey. Another obstacle in front of the resumption of oil is the ongoing case at ICC in Paris against Turkey by Baghdad from 2018 until now. Ankara asks Baghdad to drop this case, but Baghdad has yet to do so,” political analyst and former Kurdistan official Lawk Ghafuri told CNBC.

“The ruling party in Turkey [Erdogan’s AKP] wants to settle the elections and then deal with KRG’s oil with Baghdad.” 

Other analysts further emphasized Turkey’s priority to avoid further legal disputes by insisting on a strict, clear agreement on the legality of oil exports between Baghdad and Erbil. Current deals between the two counterparties are political accords, rather than legislation.

“There are still lots of technicalities that need to be sorted out between the KRG and Baghdad. Although there has been an initial deal, the details have not been fleshed out in terms of how oil [is] to be exported and which side has control over the revenues,” Yerevan Saeed, research associate at the Arab Gulf Institute in Washington, told CNBC by email.

Turkey's unorthodox economic policy will be difficult to sustain, strategist says

In addition to deciding marketing distribution, Baghdad and Kurdistan might also have to rework the agreements under which foreign firms have prepaid sums to Erbil in exchange for oil volumes, as well as the reimbursement contracts for foreign producers of Kurdish oil, market sources say.

Saeed noted Ankara may stretch negotiations with Baghdad to cover water resources from the Euphrates River and Turkey’s military presence in Kurdistan and Sinjar.

Bilal Wahab, Wagner fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, agreed that control of the Kurdish oil export flows arms Turkey with the leverage to ask Baghdad to drop its fine and second arbitration suit, as well as redefine the scope of Ankara’s business relationship with Iraq.

“This arbitration award is forcing a decision on Ankara: should they continue doing business with Kurdistan, where this has led to legal trouble with federal Iraq, or should they use this as a bird in hand to segue into getting the chance to do business in Iraq? All in all, by shutting down the pipeline, Turkey is not losing a lot, maybe the transit fee,” he told CNBC by phone, referring to Kurdistan’s payment to transport crude along the Iraq-Turkey pipeline.

Winner talks all

An Erdogan loss in the presidential battle could prolong the oil stalemate, traders warn, with Kilicdaroglu likely to require independent negotiations with Iraq — in a diplomatic point unlikely to enjoy pride of place on the new leader’s agenda.

Third-party candidate Sinan Ogan’s Monday endorsement of Erdogan has strengthened Erdogan’s position as Turks head to the polls.

Domestically, Erdogan has enjoyed a tumultuous relationship with Turkey’s largest ethnic minority, which typically accounts for 15-20% of the Turkish population. While Erdogan has had frequent rapprochement with KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, Wahab signals Turkey could still prioritize securing benefits from the oil export stalemate.

“I don’t think a victorious Erdogan would have any qualms about using the KRG as a leverage to get a good deal out of Baghdad: favourable terms for doing business in Iraq, dropping the fine that Turkey has to pay, or dropping some of the demands that Iraq has with regard to water [from the Euphrates] and Turkish military presence in Iraq,” he said.

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Supreme Court rules 9-0 that bankruptcy filers can’t avoid debt incurred by another’s fraud

The Supreme Court in a unanimous decision Wednesday ruled that a California woman could not use U.S. bankruptcy code protection to avoid paying a $200,000 debt that resulted from fraud by her partner.

The court said that the woman, Kate Bartenwerfer, owed the debt even if she did not know about her husband David’s misrepresentations regarding the condition of a house when they sold it to San Francisco real estate developer Kieran Buckley for more than $2 million.

Buckley had sued the couple and won a judgment for those misrepresentations.

The 9-0 decision written by Justice Amy Coney Barrett resolves a difference of opinion between several federal circuit appeals courts on the question of whether an innocent party can shield themselves from debt for another person’s fraud after filing for bankruptcy.

The ruling cited and reinforces a Supreme Court decision in 1885, which found that two partners in a New York wool company were liable for the debt due to the fraudulent claims of a third partner even though they were not themselves “guilty of wrong.”

Barrett dismissed Bartenwerfer’s grammar-focused argument, which claimed that the relevant section of the bankruptcy code, written in the passive voice as “money obtained by fraud,” refers to “money obtained by the individual debtor’s fraud.”

“Innocent people are sometimes held liable for fraud they did not personally commit, and, if they declare bankruptcy, [the bankruptcy code] bars discharge of that debt,” Barrett wrote. “So it is for Bartenwerfer, and we are sensitive to the hardship she faces.”

The debt to Buckley, which was originally a court judgment of $200,000 imposed in 2012, since has grown to more than $1.1 million as a result of interest, according to Janet Brayer, the San Francisco attorney who represented Buckley in a lawsuit over the house sale.

Brayer said that debt is growing at a current rate of 10% annually and that it excludes attorney fees to which she is entitled to under California law.

“We have been working on this since 2008, and now finally have been vindicated and justice served for all victims of fraud, Brayer said. “Hence, I am a happy girl today.” 

Iain MacDonald, a lawyer for Bartenwerfer, did not have an immediate comment on the ruling, saying he planned to discuss the decision with her.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a concurring opinion joined by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, noted that the ruling involves people who acted together in a partnership, not “a situation involving fraud by a person bearing no agency or partnership relationship to the debtor.”

“With that understanding, I join the Court’s opinion,” Sotomayor wrote.

The ruling on Bartenwerfer’s case came 18 years after the events that triggered the dispute.

Bartenwerfer, and her then-boyfriend David Bartenwerfer, jointly bought a house in San Francisco in 2005 and planned to remodel it and sell it for a profit, the ruling noted.

While David hired an architect, engineer, and general contractor, monitored their progress and paid for the work, “Kate, on the other hand, was largely uninvolved,” Barrett wrote.

The house was eventually bought by Buckley after the Bartenwerfers “attested that they had disclosed all material facts relating to the property,” Barrett noted.

But Buckley learned that the house had “a leaky roof, defective windows, a missing fire escape, and
permit problems.”

He then sued the couple, claiming he had overpaid for the home based on their misrepresentations of the property.

A jury ruled in his favor, awarding him $200,000 from the Bartenwerfers.

The couple was unable to pay the award or other creditors and filed for protection under Chapter 7 of the bankruptcy code, which normally allows people to void all of their debts.

But “not all debts are dischargeable,” Barrett wrote in her ruling.

“The Code makes several exceptions to the general rule, including the one at issue in this case: Section 523(a)(2)(A) bars the discharge of ‘any debt … for money … to the extent obtained by … false pretenses, a false representation, or actual fraud,'” Barrett wrote.

Buckley challenged the couple’s move to void their debt to him on that ground.

A U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge ruled in his favor, saying “that neither David nor Kate Bartenwerfer could discharge their debt to Buckley,” the opinion by Barrett noted.

“Based on testimony from the parties, real-estate agents, and contractors, the court found that David had knowingly concealed the house’s defects from Buckley,” Barrett wrote.

“And the court imputed David’s fraudulent intent to Kate because the two had formed a legal partnership to execute the renovation and resale project,” she added.

The couple appealed the ruling.

The U.S. Bankruptcy Appellate Panel for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that David still owed the debt to Buckley given his fraudulent intent.

But the same panel disagreed that Kate owed the debt.

“As the panel saw it [a section of the bankruptcy code] barred her from discharging the debt only if she knew or had reason to know of David’s fraud,” Barrett wrote.

Bartenwerfer later asked the Supreme Court to hear her appeal of that ruling.

In her opinion, Barrett noted that the text of the bankruptcy code explicitly bars Chapter 7 from being used by a debtor to discharge a debt if that obligation was the result of “false pretenses, a false representation, or actual fraud.”

Barrett wrote, “By its terms, this text precludes Kate Bartenwerfer from discharging her liability for the state-court judgment.”

The justice noted that Kate Bartenwerfer disputed that, even as she admitted, “that, as a grammatical matter, the passive-voice statute does not specify a fraudulent actor.”

“But in her view, the statute is most naturally read to bar the discharge of debts for money obtained by the debtor’s fraud,” Barrett wrote.

“We disagree: Passive voice pulls the actor off the stage,” Barrett wrote.

The justice wrote that Congress, in writing the relevant section of the bankruptcy code, “framed it to ‘focu[s] on an event that occurs without respect to a specific actor, and therefore without respect to any actor’s intent or culpability.’ “

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Google’s ex-CEO Eric Schmidt tapped for federal biotech commission that allows members to keep biotech investments

On Dec. 30, leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees announced the selection of former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and 11 others to serve on a new federal commission on biotechnology.

Tasked with reviewing the biotech industry and suggesting investments that would benefit U.S. security, the National Security Commission on Emerging Biotechnology is expected to have a prominent voice on policy and federal spending in the cutting-edge industry.

The appointment, however, doesn’t require commission members to divest their own personal biotech investments — even as they help shape U.S. policy overseeing the industry. Through a venture capital firm known as First Spark Ventures, Schmidt holds stakes in several biotech companies, placing him in a position to potentially profit if those companies are the beneficiaries of a new wave of federal biotech spending.

A person familiar with Schmidt’s thinking, who asked not to be identified, told CNBC on Jan. 19 that he wouldn’t be involved in selecting or monitoring any federal investments in the sector and that he isn’t involved in decision-making about First Spark’s investments. The person also said he would comply with all disclosure rules.

Then, on Jan. 25, after a series of emails and conversations with CNBC about the potential conflict of interest, the person said Schmidt will donate 100 percent of the “net profits” from his investment in First Spark to charity. The person didn’t say when Schmidt made the decision to donate profits, adding that he hasn’t yet named any recipient charities.

Due to the nature of venture capital investments, it could take years before a company is sold or goes public.

“This is a potential horror show,” Walter Shaub, the former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, said of the new commission. “Congress created this commission without adequate safeguards against conflicts of interest.”

Shaub, an attorney who’s now a senior ethics fellow at the nonpartisan nonprofit Project on Government Oversight, said members of the commission are exempt from criminal conflict of interest laws that might otherwise require them to recuse themselves or divest certain holdings because it was set up by Congress and not the executive branch.

“These are individuals who are going to be helping to shape federal policy on the intersection of biotechnology and national security, and it’ll be legal for them to make recommendations that benefit their own personal financial interests,” Shaub said. “Because much of the work could be classified, the public may have no way to gauge how their financial interests are influencing their recommendations.”

A spokesperson for the Senate Armed Services Committee, which will oversee the commission, said Schmidt and other members were selected by bipartisan leaders in the House and Senate and are expected to follow government ethics rules.

“Every member on this commission is required to adhere to all government ethics policies,” the spokesperson said. “The commission itself is designed to prevent undue influence, and Congress will provide careful oversight throughout the commission’s work.”

The commission’s incoming chairman, Dr. Jason Kelly, doesn’t plan to relinquish his role as CEO of Boston biotech company Ginkgo Bioworks, which specializes in genetic engineering.

“Jason is serving on this commission in his personal capacity,” said Joseph Fridman, an executive at Ginkgo Bioworks. He didn’t address whether Kelly planned to divest any potential equity in the company as well. “I’ll also note that, in general, we regularly implement measures at Ginkgo to maintain our position as a trusted partner of the U.S. government.”

Schmidt’s decision to donate his profits “reinforce(s) that he volunteers for these roles for all the right reasons,” said the person familiar with his thinking. “The primary purpose is philanthropy,” the person said.

But Shaub said if Schmidt were to give the First Spark net profits to charity that it wouldn’t go far enough to address the problem. “Saying he’ll donate any profits changes nothing,” he said. “You either have a financial interest in the government work you’re doing or you don’t.”

The Pentagon is already deeply invested in the biotechnology sector. In September, for example, the White House announced that the Department of Defense will invest $1 billion in bioindustrial domestic manufacturing infrastructure over five years to spur development of the U.S. manufacturing base. The new federal commission will likely have a say in steering such investments over the two years of its lifetime.  

This is not the first time Schmidt has participated in an influential Washington commission. In October, CNBC reported that Schmidt and entities connected to him made more than 50 investments in artificial intelligence companies while he was chair of a federal commission on AI from 2018 to 2021. There was no indication that Schmidt broke any ethics rules or did anything unlawful while chairing the commission. And CNBC is unaware of any instance in which Schmidt abused his position on the earlier commission for personal financial gain.

Still, at the time, Shaub called Schmidt’s AI arrangement “absolutely a conflict of interest,” and said that it was “not the right thing to do.”

Schmidt’s biotech investments are relatively recent. Schmidt, who serves as a strategic advisor and nonmanaging partner, was a co-founder of First Spark in 2021. The firm’s investments are heavily concentrated in the biotech sector: in cutting-edge companies like Walking Fish Technologies, which focuses on cell engineering; Vitara Biomedical, a neonatal-care enterprise; and Valitor, which specializes in protein-based drug therapies. Representatives of the three companies did not respond to requests for comment.

CNBC attempted to reach First Spark officials through LinkedIn for comment, but did not receive a response. The firm’s website does not offer a telephone number or email address.  

CNBC attempted to reach the other members of the commission to determine how they would handle potential conflict of interest issues. A spokesman for Rep. Ro Khanna, who was named to the commission, said the congressman does not own any individual stocks, and his wife’s assets are in a diversified trust managed by an outside financial advisor. “Qualified diversified trusts eliminate conflicts and are therefore an appropriate vehicle to safeguard against any potential conflicts,” Khanna’s spokesperson said.

Dawn Meyerriecks, the former deputy director of the CIA for Science and Technology who will serve on the commission, told CNBC she does not have any personal investments in the biotech space.

“As you know, the Commission is not yet fully set up,” she said in a message via LinkedIn. “All the commissioners will file all disclosure forms that are required for service on the commission and work with government ethics counsel to consider any potential conflicts based on the expected work of the Commission. “

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