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News Brief: Democracy Activists Arrested In Hong Kong, Methane Limit Rollback, Brexit


Three of the leading activists from Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement are under arrest.


Right. So the most prominent among them is 22-year-old Joshua Wong. He was walking to a subway station on Friday morning when he was, quote, "forcefully pushed into a private minivan on the street in broad daylight." We quote that because it's according to Demosisto, which is the youth activist group that Wong leads. He's been involved in the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong for years. As a teenager, he was part of the 2014 so-called Umbrella Movement, which has partly inspired this latest wave of pro-democracy protests that we're seeing in Hong Kong.

KING: All right. Emily Feng is on the line from Hong Kong. She's been following all of this. Hey, Emily.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Hello. Good morning.

KING: So what do we know about these three young activists who've been arrested?

FENG: Well, besides Joshua Wong, there is Andy Chan and Agnes Chow. And they're all young. They're in their 20s. They're perceived by some as leaders of the current protests, which are now in their fourth month. But they're not the leaders. I think it's important to make that distinction. The current protests are a leaderless movement. The three of them had been leaders in the pro-democracy protests called the Umbrella Movement from five years ago. And it was this peaceful occupation of Hong Kong's central business district that then fizzled out after 79 days. But their key demand from that protest five years ago that Hong Kongers be able to elect their own leader is now being repeated in the current anti-government protests.

KING: OK. But you said two things there that are really interesting. And the first is these protests have been going on for four months. And the second thing is these three kids are not leaders of it. So why arrest them and why arrest them now?

FENG: This weekend is a politically significant anniversary. It's the fifth anniversary of Beijing's decision to maintain its control over how Hong Kong's leader is chosen. And it's also the decision that sparked the 2014 Umbrella Movement in the first place. And so to commemorate the anniversary, there was supposed to be a big march this Saturday. But Hong Kong police have denied the organizers permission. And so organizers said today that they're going to cancel protests.

Then on top of the Saturday march, Demosisto, the group you mentioned that Wong leads and that Agnes Chow is also part of - they've been organizing these mass student sit-ins and strikes that are going to happen across schools starting Monday, which is when the semester begins. I also heard of a wave of other arrests that have happened among at least two Hong Kong lawmakers and a former student union leader who participated in protests over the last few months. So there seems to be a coordinated wave of arrests across the city today. And they mark an escalation from the Beijing chosen leadership of Hong Kong to put an end to these protests.

KING: Yeah. It certainly seems like it. And organizers canceled the weekend protests. These are the ones that we've been seeing for the past couple of months. People turn up. They're enormous. Does that necessarily mean - if the protest has been canceled, does that necessarily mean that this weekend is just a bust?

FENG: No. I think that a lot of people are going to show up to protest. That's what protesters and organizers from Demosisto are saying. And they're even more angry because of the wave of arrests that have been going on. The strikes for Monday and Tuesday are also going full steam ahead. Demosisto, which is the youth activist group that Chow and Wang are part of, were defiant today. They held a press conference in front of the Hong Kong government's offices. And here's a clip of them.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Chanting in Chinese).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in Chinese).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Chanting in Chinese).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in Chinese).

FENG: They're chanting in protest of what they see as police overreach and terror. And they're still encouraging people to come out this weekend, despite the ban and the fear that there are going to be more arrests coming.

KING: NPR's Emily Feng on the line from Hong Kong. Emily, thank you so much.

FENG: Thank you.


KING: OK. The Trump administration wants to roll back yet another Obama-era environmental rule.

MARTIN: Right. So this proposal was released yesterday. And it aims to undo many of the requirements on oil and gas sites to detect and fix methane leaks from wells and pipelines. Methane - obviously, a very powerful greenhouse gas. It is 25 times more damaging than carbon dioxide. And it's released during natural gas and oil production. Small oil and gas companies generally oppose the Obama administration rules on methane. But bigger companies have supported them.

KING: NPR's Jeff Brady has been reporting on this story. He's with us in the studio. Good morning, Jeff.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: All right. So let me ask you about this really interesting split. Small companies want the rules rolled back. They don't want the regulation. But big energy companies actually supported Obama's regulation. What's going on there?

BRADY: Well, these small oil and gas companies - they generally claim that the rules are too expensive and burdensome. And that's also the argument that the Trump administration makes. But the larger companies, ExxonMobil, BP and Shell - all names we recognize - they support the rules because they worry what could happen if regulations become too lax. Here's Ben Ratner with the Environmental Defense Fund, explaining their logic.

BEN RATNER: Some companies and their investors realize the risk that the future of American natural gas could be dragged down by industry's worst actors.

BRADY: Natural gas has a reputation for burning cleaner. But big oil companies worry that reputation could go away if they don't stop those methane leaks.

KING: Oh, that's interesting. So there's a lot on the line for them, including some reputational risk. So why is the Trump administration - why does the Trump administration want to roll back these rules in the first place if big industry supports them?

BRADY: Well, President Trump put out an executive order telling agencies to review existing regulations that might hamper the growth of domestic energy. The EPA took a look at that - this rule limiting methane leaks at wells, compressor stations and other industry operations. And the agency decided there were already other rules in place that limit - that they would also limit methane. So they're proposing to get rid of these rules. Now, those other rules - they do exist, but it's not clear that they would be as effective as ones focused only on methane. And environmentalists, along with those big oil companies, say it's important to have that focus because methane is so effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere, of course, making climate change work.

KING: Yeah. President Trump has gone after several of these Obama-era rules aimed at climate change, hasn't he?

BRADY: Yeah. There is a pattern. And to understand it, you really have to go back into the Obama presidency. Addressing climate change was a priority for him. He couldn't get Congress to pass laws specifically focused on regulating greenhouse gases. So the administration developed regulations under existing laws, like the Clean Air Act. But critics say the Obama administration overstepped its authority. And they're bringing their legal analysis to a new president who wants to boost the country's fossil fuel business. And that gives the Trump administration a way to start rolling back some of these regulations.

KING: So is this rollback on methane a done deal?

BRADY: Well, there are some roadblocks. One of them is the oil and gas industry itself, these big companies - investors - they have investors to worry about. They want to show the public that they care about climate change. And rolling back regulations doesn't fit with that thinking. So you have the oil company Shell saying it's going to go ahead with its plans no matter what the administration is doing. They're going to reduce methane emissions. And another potential roadblock is timing. We're just about a year out from the next presidential election. And the EPA still has to put this out for comment, hold a public hearing? And then there's almost certainly going to be a challenge in court. So this could take us well past November 2020.

KING: OK, well past the election, indeed.


KING: NPR's Jeff Brady. Thanks so much, Jeff.

BRADY: Thank you.


KING: OK. Britain's prime minister, Boris Johnson, is facing what can only be described as a pretty serious backlash after he decided to suspend Parliament early next month.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Save our democracy. Stop the coup. Save our democracy. Stop the coup.

MARTIN: Save our democracy. Stop the coup. That is the voice - the collective voice of Londoners who were protesting in Parliament Square this week after the suspension was approved by the queen. This move means Parliament will have less time to debate how the United Kingdom will exit the European Union under Brexit, which makes it so controversial. And the whole thing increases the odds that British lawmakers just won't be able to reach a deal before the October 31 deadline, which would send Britain crashing out of the EU. The plan is now facing legal challenges.

KING: NPR's Frank Langfitt has been following all of this messiness. He's on the line. Hey, Frank.


KING: So now there's a legal effort underway to try and prevent Parliament from being suspended. How is this working?

LANGFITT: Well, right now everybody's focused on a court in Scotland. And we're waiting for a verdict this morning. Seventy-five parliamentarians are basically seeking an injunction to stop the suspension. And one of the lawyers representing the parliamentarians - the quote from him was, "The powers of the executive are never unlimited and unfettered. We do not live in a totalitarian state." It's that kind of language right now here in Britain. The government's answer is this is not a question for the court at all. The queen often always - almost always takes the advice of the prime minister. And this suspension is totally normal. So hopefully, we'll hear very soon what the court in Scotland thinks about all this.

KING: OK. Be interesting to hear the verdict there. So Parliament is supposed to be convening next week. There will be Brexit negotiations happening, I assume. What are they going to be talking about in that week?

LANGFITT: Well, in that week, they only are going to have - they could have as little as five days...

KING: Wow.

LANGFITT: ...To try to get anything done. So it's just considerably less than expected. And what we do expect is members of Parliament who oppose a no deal to begin to try to pass legislation to block the U.K. from leaving without a deal. And the question is, can they - how long will it take them to do that? Because under the parliamentary system, the prime minister controls the agenda. It's not like the United States at all. And so this will take a fair bit of parliamentary maneuvering to get there.

What the no-deal members of Parliament - the ones who want to fight this - hope is that then Johnson would either have to go back to Brussels and get a compromise, which now seems quite unlikely, or ask for another extension. And if it got to another extension, most people here think this is all headed, Noel, to another general election sooner than later.

KING: Wow.

LANGFITT: I think most people feel this cannot be resolved without taking this issue back to the people.

KING: Well, let's talk about the people because I know you traveled...


KING: ...To the city of Boston.


KING: And that city's a place where more people voted in favor of Brexit than any other city in the U.K. What are they telling you?

LANGFITT: Well, what you hear up here is exactly the opposite of what Rachel was saying just in our introduction. People here are actually supportive of what Johnson is doing. They are sick and tired of all this. I was talking to Michael Reynolds (ph). He's a retired butcher, and he supports Johnson. And this is how he put it.

MICHAEL REYNOLDS: I don't like the other parties. I think they're all against him. If the lord protector of England was still alive, the people who have stopped us from going out in Europe - all their heads would've been on Westminster Bridge. You know what I mean - lord protector of England - don't you? Oliver Cromwell.

LANGFITT: Now, just for history buffs, people - Oliver Cromwell led an army into the House of Commons, forcibly dissolved Parliament. This was the 1650s. So to translate that, what he's saying is drastic times require drastic action.

KING: Oh, my goodness. NPR's Frank Langfitt talking to us via Skype. Frank, thanks so much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.
Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.
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