* Signal Peak’s production to rise to 15 mln clean tons per yearOct 18 (Reuters) - FirstEnergy and Boich Companies said they will sell one-third interest in their joint venture Signal Peak coal mine to commodity trader Gunvor Group for $400 million.Akron, Ohio-based FirstEnergy said it will get nearly $260 million from deal — which will help it cut its debt by about $360 million due to deconsolidation.The company also said it stands to gain $390 million due to a revaluation of the asset.FirstEnergy and Boich Companies, a privately held Columbus, Ohio-based coal company, originally purchased Signal Peak in 2008.The Signal Peak operation is valued at over $1.5 billion, inclusive of debt.FirstEnergy said it cut its coal purchase agreement with Signal Peak to 2 million short tons from 7.5 million short tons.Signal Peak’s production is expected to rise to 15 million clean tons per year from the current 9 million tons.Shares of FirstEnergy were trading up slightly in early morning trade on the New York Stock Exchange.
U.S. health officials said on Friday that after 19 months of analysis, they could not come up with a model for the so-called CLASS Act that keeps it voluntary and budget-neutral.”We do not have a path to move forward,” Kathy Greenlee, assistant secretary of aging from the Health and Human Services department and administrator of the program, said in a call with reporters.”Everything we do to make the program more (financially) sound moves us away from the law, and increases the legal risk of the program.”The Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) program was designed to give the disabled and elderly cash to receive care at home instead of usually more expensive institutional care.Under the law, workers would have begun enrolling in the program after October of 2012, after the HHS set the program’s benefits. The program was to have been voluntary, with participants required to pay into it for at least five years before qualifying for benefits.The Congressional Budget Office had estimated the program would reduce the federal deficit by $70 billion in the program’s first decade.However, the CBO also said the program would start to lose money after the first decade or two, once benefit payments exceeded income from premiums.Republicans, many of whom are eager to repeal Obama’s healthcare reform, have criticized the CLASS Act as a way to trump up the cost savings of the Affordable Care Act.”The CLASS Act was a budget gimmick that might enhance the numbers on a Washington bureaucrat’s spreadsheet but was destined to fail in the real world,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.”However, it is worth remembering that the CLASS Act is only one of the unwise, unsustainable components of an unwise, unsustainable law.”Greenlee said the Affordable Care Act will continue to reduce the deficit by $127 billion between 2012 and 2021, even without the CLASS Act. However, the decision to suspend the program would probably reduce the president’s 2013 baseline budget.Dozens of states have sued to challenge the healthcare law, particularly its requirement that all Americans have health insurance. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the legal challenge sometime before June 2012.NOT ADDING UPIn September, Republicans in Congress posted emails that showed government actuaries were already questioning CLASS, even before the program became part of the Affordable Care Act.The Republican Policy Committee also posted a September email from Bob Yee, an HHS actuary who said he was hired to run the program, saying he was leaving his position and the CLASS office would be closing.HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in February acknowledged the agency was struggling to make the program self-sustainable in the long run.On Friday, Greenlee said the law specifically allowed the program to be suspended if the HHS could not prove it was financially sound for 75 years.”Because of the tremendous uncertainty that surrounded the program from its inception, it had this provision that the (HHS) Secretary had to satisfy solvency, and we could not proceed otherwise,” she said.Some Democrats on Friday urged the HHS to not be so quick in giving up on the program.Congressman Frank Pallone, a Democrat from New Jersey who co-authored the program along with the late Senator Edward Kennedy, said seniors and the disabled who need home care would only have Medicaid to fall back on if the program were repealed.”If the program needs improving, then let’s find the way to do it,” he said in a statement.”While we are fighting so hard against Republican attempts to cut Medicaid … abandoning the CLASS Act is the wrong decision. Soon enough, those in need will have nowhere to go for long term care.”According to the AARP, a nonprofit group that represents those over 50 years of age, 70 percent of people age 65 and over will need long-term care services at some point in their lifetime, and Medicare, the federal insurance program for the elderly and disabled, does not cover such care.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, halted the controversial provision that permits Alabama to require public schools to determine the legal residency of children upon enrollment.But the court ruled the state could continue to authorize police to detain people suspected of being in the country illegally if they cannot produce proper documentation when stopped for any reason.The Obama administration and a coalition of civil rights groups had sought to stop the law while it was under court review, arguing it has led some illegal immigrants in Alabama to pull their children out of school and even flee the state.The Justice Department also contends the measure, passed by large margins in both chambers of the Republican-led legislature earlier this year, interferes with the federal government’s exclusive authority over immigration.State lawmakers argue they were forced to act, saying the Obama administration had not done enough to stem the flow of illegal immigrants into the country.There are an estimated 11.2 million illegal immigrants in the United States, including between 75,000 and 160,000 in Alabama, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.Under the ruling issued on Friday, Alabama can bar illegal immigrants from entering into commercial contracts with the state or local governments and applying for or renewing drivers’ licenses, identification cards or license plates.”Once again, we’re pleased that the majority and most effectual parts of this law will remain in place,” said Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard, a Republican.”While the federal government sues to prolong and exacerbate the illegal immigration problem, Alabama is taking action to ensure the laws of our land are upheld.”The Justice Department said it looked forward to the appeals court giving further consideration to its arguments for blocking other key provisions of the law.”We are pleased that the Eleventh Circuit has blocked Alabama’s registration provisions which criminalized unlawful presence and chilled access to a public education,” the department said in a statement.
* Switzerland is world ‘leader’ in restoring assets, foreign ministry official saysBy Stephanie NebehayGENEVA, Oct 12 (Reuters) - Switzerland is trying to help the new authorities of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya recover 770 million Swiss francs ($850 million) in frozen assets linked to their ousted leaders, but the process could take years, a senior Swiss official said on Wednesday.Separately, the neutral Alpine country, aligning itself with European Union sanctions on Syria, has blocked 45 million francs tied to President Bashar al-Assad and his regime, said Valentin Zellweger, head of international law at the foreign ministry.The Swiss federal cabinet moved swiftly at the start of the Arab spring in January and February, blocking suspicious funds stashed in Swiss coffers to ensure they were not moved or used to fund Muammar Gaddafi’s armed attacks on his people, he said.Seized assets currently include 300 million francs linked to the deposed Libyan leader, 410 million Swiss francs tied to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and 60 million francs to former Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, he said.Switzerland has already unfrozen 385 million francs and made them available to the new Libyan authorities for the Libyan National Oil Company and Libya Investment Authority, he added.”The main objective remains quick restitution of funds to Tunisia and Egypt. We are putting all of our efforts into contributing all we can,” Zellweger told a news conference.But 25 years of experience tracing illicit Swiss funds of dictators, including Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and Sani Abacha of Nigeria, has shown that lawyers can lodge appeals all the way up to the highest Swiss court, he said.One-third of the $1.5 billion in assets held offshore by Middle Eastern and African rulers is in Switzerland, some of it illegally obtained, according to the Swiss-based research firm MyPrivateBanking.Switzerland has tightened money-laundering laws in recent years and requires the country’s 7,000 financial institutions to enforce “know your customer” rules, Zellweger said. These also cover so-called “politically-exposed persons” or PEPs, the Swiss term encompassing leaders, ministers and military brass.”In terms of money restituted globally by all financial centres, of the total 4-5 billion francs estimated by the World Bank, one-third comes from Swiss banks. It’s an objective fact, Switzerland is the country that has restituted the most money and this is recognised by a growing number of experts,” Zellweger said. “Switzerland is a leader in this domain.”“Swiss banks can of course have relations with ‘politically exposed persons’. If Madame (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel came to a bank and asked to open an account, she would be considered a PEP but the bank would have an obligation of due diligence, to review the profile of Madame Merkel regularly.”“ENDEMIC CORRUPTION”Swiss authorities last week formally accepted a request from Tunisia for judicial assistance in recovering 60 million francs after rejecting the initial request as insufficient.”Several days ago the Swiss federal justice office accepted the request for assistance from Tunisia. We hope it will bear fruit as quickly as possible. It is an important step that we haven’t crossed yet with Egypt, where there is cooperation but for the bulk of its case we’re not there yet,” Zellweger said.”Endemic corruption, the Tunisian system that is being discovered now, clearly resembles a certain form of criminal organisation, to line the pockets of people in power,” he said.Switzerland has sent financial and legal experts to fledging democracies in North Africa and the Middle East to establish a “relationship of confidence” and help their authorities unlock the web of financial transactions, he said.”In Tunisia, there have not been many criminal investigations for corruption in the last 30 years. These crimes are enormously complex. Some countries don’t have such savoir-faire and it is extremely expensive. It has to be built up,” said Zellweger. ($1 = 0.904 Swiss Francs)