PGNiG seeks price cut from Gazprom

WARSAW, Poland, Feb. 22 (UPI) — A Polish natural gas distributor filed a lawsuit against Russian natural gas company Gazprom, saying it wanted a 10 percent cut in prices.

Polskie Gornictwo Naftowe i Gazownictwo filed a suit in an international court demanding Gazprom offer some relief to the estimated $500 paid for every 1,000 cubic meters of gas it gets from the Russian company, Bloomberg News reports, citing Polish media.

Gazprom said it was offering discounts to some European consumers, who pay roughly $400 per 1,000 cubic meters. PGNiG gets about 70 percent of its natural gas from Russia.

Pawel Burzynski, a banking analyst in Warsaw, told Bloomberg there was a “slim” chance Poland could get a lower gas price from Gazprom. It all depends, he said, on “Gazprom’s good well.”

Burzynski said Poland has few alternatives for natural gas. Warsaw, however, said it was looking to offset some of the gas it gets from Russia through development of domestic shale gas reserves.

The U.S. Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration estimated Poland has at least 180 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in shale deposits, enough to meet domestic demand for more than 300 years.

In early February, however, Exxon Mobil announced that early efforts in shale gas exploration in Poland weren’t lucrative enough for commercial production.

Oil risks, rewards in Iraq’s Kurdish north

NORWALK, Conn., Feb. 22 (UPI) — It remains to be seen whether investors will have the patience to reap rewards from oil developments in the Kurdish north of Iraq, analysis finds.

In May, Iraq is expected to put around a dozen oil and natural gas blocks up for auction in its fourth licensing round. International companies have deals with the Kurdish government but the central government questions the validity of the contracts.

Robert Gillon, director of energy company research at IHS Global Insight, said some blocks from oil fields in the Kurdish north contain hundreds of millions of barrels of oil.

“The potential is immense but the risks are quite pronounced,” he said in a statement.

IHS blamed geopolitical and “several technical” risks to energy companies working in the semiautonomous Kurdish region. Reserve estimates vary widely because few appraisal wells were drilled while export pipeline capacity is short of what’s needed in the region.

Gillon said energy companies in the region need to have a “very high tolerance for risk” to have success.

“The value in the play is there, that is clear,” he said. “What is not clear is whether that value will be realized in a timeframe that is acceptable to investors.”

Oil company excited about Turkmenistan

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Feb. 22 (UPI) — Caspian energy producer Dragon Oil announced plans for a lofty oil production target for the coming years in Turkmenistan.

Dragon’s primary focus is on the eastern waters of the Caspian Sea. Dragon, in an outlook for 2012, said it aims to drill as many as 20 development wells in the region every year from 2013-15.

In 2011, the company said its average oil production from the region reached around 61,000 barrels of oil per day, a 30 percent increase from the previous year.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration notes that oil production in Turkmenistan has increased gradually since 2007 but the country lacks sufficient export pipeline infrastructure.

“The country remains a small net oil exporter,” the EIA said in its assessment.

Nevertheless, Dragon said it could reach the 100,000 bpd target by 2015.

“Looking ahead I am confident that Dragon Oil will reach the challenging new 100,000 bpd production target in 2015 and sustain this level for at least five years thereafter,” Dragon Chief Executive Officer Abdul Jaleel al-Khalifa said in a statement. “We have both talent and financial resources to deliver on this target.”

Shell finds oil in deep U.S. waters

HOUSTON, Feb. 22 (UPI) — Shell announced that it encountered oil at its Appomattox discovery in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico in the Mississippi Canyon block.

Shell said it encountered roughly 150 feet of oil pay in an appraisal well in the Mississippi Canyon block in about 7,257 feet of water.

“We are pleased with the continued success at our Appomattox prospect and this well supports our continuing appraisal efforts to progress this to a new hub class development,” David Lawrence, an executive vice president of exploration at Shell, said in a statement.

In 2010, Shell drilled a discovery well in the region that encountered roughly 530 feet of oil pay. A 25,950-foot appraisal sidetrack encountered roughly 380 feet of oil pay.

The deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico are considered one of the most promising resource basins in the world. International explorers say offshore exploration could ease U.S. dependence on foreign oil, though the oil disaster in the gulf in 2010 sparked heightened concern about the safety of deep-water exploration.

The U.S. and Mexican governments this week signed a deal to explore for oil and natural gas along the shared maritime border in the Gulf of Mexico.

OMV upbeat about Libya, Yemen in 2012

VIENNA, Feb. 22 (UPI) — Austrian energy company OMV said in its earnings report that it aimed to return Libyan crude oil production to pre-war levels in 2012.

A NATO-led military operation in Libya curtailed oil production from one of North Africa’s top oil-producing nations. Most energy companies operating there had restarted work in the country by mid-summer, however.

OMV said its crude oil production in Libya was around 50 percent — roughly 17,000 barrels per day — of pre-war levels by the end of December.

“In the international portfolio, OMV will seek to bring Libyan production back to pre-crisis level and beyond,” the company said in a statement.

In Yemen, the company said the security situation “remains uncertain” but added “negative external influences” in the country aren’t expected to be “as significant” in the year ahead.

In late 2010, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula was blamed for a raid on the Yemeni headquarters of OMV.

“The year was dominated by the Arab spring which led to high oil prices on the one side but missing volumes from Libya and Yemen on the other,” OMV Chief Executive Officer Gerhard Roiss said.

“Despite this challenging environment we achieved a strong operating result above last year’s level and strengthened our company’s financial position to make it fit for the years to come.”

IEA has mixed view on Danish energy

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, Feb. 22 (UPI) — Denmark is a leader in policies aimed at improving its energy sector but there’s room for improvement and more investment, the IEA said.

Denmark last year outlined a series of energy policies meant to make the country independent of fossil fuels by 2050. The International Energy Agency said some of Denmark’s policies are “well-designed” for a green economy.

“The IEA commends Denmark and its people for the scope of their vision and their many successes in adopting sustainable energy policies,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said.

Short-term initiatives focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy while long-term strategies outline a green transportation sector and the use of so-called smart grids.

Van der Hoeven warned, however, that Denmark’s electricity network needs a major overhaul that would require substantial investments.

“The radical transformation of the energy sector will not be cheap,” the IEA said. The agency estimates it would cost Denmark around $1 billion to transition to a green economy and called on Danish consumers to ensure they’re paying for “optimal policy outcomes.”

Van der Hoeven said that even with Denmark’s “exemplary record” there is “room for further enhancement if Denmark is to remain at the top of the class.”

GOP blames Obama for high gas prices

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 (UPI) — Republican lawmakers blamed energy policies from the Obama administration for the recent rise in gasoline prices.

Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives passed a bill last week that called for more domestic oil and natural gas production. It would also transfer U.S. President Barack Obama’s authority to approve the Keystone XL pipeline to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, in a message on his Web site, blamed Obama’s energy policy for high gasoline prices, unemployment and slow economic recovery.

Gasoline prices in the United States are averaging around $3.56 per gallon, though drivers along the West Coast are reportedly paying as much as $5 per gallon. In general, analysts blame saber rattling with Iran for higher energy prices.

Hastings said the Obama administration had placed roadblocks to domestic energy production. The U.S. Interior Department, which oversees some aspects of domestic energy, said Obama’s “blueprint for energy security” is focused on developing oil and natural gas reserves responsibly.

Iran claims new oil deal with Ukraine

TEHRAN, Feb. 22 (UPI) — Iranian and Ukrainian entities are investing around $800 million to develop three oil fields in Iranian territory, an Iranian energy official said.

Ahmad Qalebani, managing director of the National Iranian Oil Co., said a consortium of Iranian and Ukrainian oil companies signed a deal to develop the Kouhmond, Kouhkaki and Boushkan oil fields in Iran, the semiofficial Fars News Agency reports.

Combined, the three oil fields hold an estimated 2.1 billion barrels of oil, the report said. The first phase of operations could produce around 11,000 bpd but would double after the second phase is completed. The report didn’t provide a timeline for operations.

Iran has some of the largest oil and natural gas deposits in the world though major energy companies are reluctant to work in the country because of pressure from Western economic sanctions.

Tehran has brushed off most of the economic pressure by saying it would have no problems finding alternative customers. Some countries are seeking exemptions from the aspects of economic sanctions targeting financial transactions with Iran.

Pine bark found to prevent inflammation

Pine bark found to prevent inflammation According to new research, the extract from the bark of the French maritime pine tree appears to have inflammation-fighting properties and relieve pain.

Scientists from the National Research Institute on Food and Nutrition in Rome found the antioxidant compound, called Pycnogenol, inhibits the generation of COX-2 and 5-LOX, which are naturally occurring mediators associated with inflammatory responses.

The researchers tested volunteers aged 35-50, who took Pycnogenol pills for five consecutive mornings before breakfast. Blood sample analysis before and after supplementation showed that while the participants’ immune cells rapidly initiated production of COX-2 and 5-LOX in response to pro-inflammatory stimulation, taking Pycnogenol almost entirely suppressed them in the immune cells.

Study author Dr. Raffaella Canali explained that common NSAID medications lower the pain by reducing the production of prostaglandins by COX enzymes.

"In contrast, Pycnogenol turns to the root of the problem, completely stopping the production of COX-2 in inflammation. Thus far, the compound seems to be a unique tool for modulating inflammatory processes," she adds.

Natural Health Science, a supplements distributor, says Pycnogenol is available in more than 700 nutritional supplements worldwide.

Proper nutrition may help you survive the flu season

Proper nutrition may help you survive the flu season While hand-washing and cough-covering is very important, experts are saying there is a range of flu-fighting foods that may help vulnerable individuals get throughout the difficult season.

"[While it is] important to eat a variety of healthy foods from all food groups throughout the year, adding flu-fighting [items] like yogurt, garlic, citrus and chicken to your diet [during flu season] can boost your body’s immune system and help you to avoid getting sick," stresses Andrea Garen, a registered dietitian.

She says yogurt and other cultured milk products contain probiotics – beneficial bacterial strains that have been shown to boost the immune system and promote digestive health.

In addition to live cultures, dairy products are also rich in vitamin D, which has similar immune benefits, and recent research has found many Americans are deficient in the vitamin, which may be linked to a seasonal increase in colds and flu and a higher incidence of respiratory infections.

Crushing garlic cloves before adding them to food to release the garlic juice will also allow one to reap the immune-enhancing benefits of that herb.

Finally, any immunity-boosting diet should include citrus fruits that are rich in vitamin C as well as chicken, meat and peanuts that contain zinc.

For those who are too busy to regularly consume immunity-enhancing foods there are nutritional supplements with vitamins C and D that can lower the risk of getting the flu.


Organization lists tax hikes proposed in healthcare reform plan

Organization lists tax hikes proposed in healthcare reform plan Only two days have passed since the Senate Finance Committee unveiled its healthcare bill proposal, and Americans for Tax Reform (ATF), an organization that opposes all tax increases, has prepared a list of tax hikes that could be enforced if the bill passes.

Because the plan includes a mandate for all Americans to obtain insurance coverage, ATF says workers who do not sign up will have to pay a tax of between $750 and $3,500 depending on their status and income.

In addition, employers will be taxed at the rate of $400 per employee if they do not offer health coverage.

The plan also provides for a 35 percent excise tax on high-cost health insurance plans, meaning those whose premiums exceed $21,000 for families and $8,000 for singles. Moreover, it would eliminate tax breaks such as the deduction for employer-provided retirement prescription drug coverage in coordination with Medicare Part D.

In recent months, ATF has been focusing on exposing President Obama’s apparent failure to keep his campaign promise not to raise any taxes on Americans making less than $250,000 a year.

Diet may prevent Alzheimer’s disease, study finds

Diet may prevent Alzheimer's disease, study finds A Mediterranean-style diet may become a new weapon for those who would like to reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) as a new study has found that when combined with physical fitness, it lowers the odds of developing neurodegenerative conditions.

Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center studied two groups of 1,880 elderly New Yorkers without dementia at the start of the study, measured their dietary habits and physical activity and then followed up with them for an average of 5.4 years. During that period, a total of 282 people developed Alzheimer’s disease.

The scientists found statistical evidence that both physical activity and a Mediterranean diet adherence were significantly associated with AD incidence, the research report says.

In a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association the scientists wrote that compared with control individuals, high physical activity plus high diet adherence was associated with a 35 percent to 44 percent relative risk reduction.

The research also concurs with a recent study conducted in France that found that the diet was associated with slower cognitive decline.
The hallmarks of the Mediterranean diet include high consumption of fresh produce, especially fruits, vegetables and legumes, as well as cereal and fish, and low intake of red meat and poultry.

NIA criticizes Tea Party protest for neglecting inflation

NIA criticizes Tea Party protest for neglecting inflation Last weekend, tens of thousands or, by some estimates, more than a million people descended on Washington to protest against high spending and the federal government’s expansion, but the National Inflation Association says few participants called on Washington to address the threat of inflation.

The protesters marched to the Capitol chanting slogans and waving posters that voiced a range of grievances against the government and some of its leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Obama.

Organizations involved in sponsoring the march included the National Taxpayers Union,, Tea Party Patriots, the Campaign for Liberty and FreedomWorks. The latter, a conservative organization led by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, organized several groups from across the country.

FoxNews quoted one protester, a 57-year-old Vietnam War veteran and former Teamster, who said that although healthcare reform is needed, Obama’s approach was not the way to go.

"My grandkids are going to be paying for this. It’s going to cost too much money that we don’t have," he said.

Echoing his sentiments, NIA said it was disappointed none of the speakers at the rally mentioned the monetary inflation that is taking place and that it is says threatens to destroy the wealth of most Americans.

"We need to wake up America and help everybody become aware of how we will pay for and feel the consequences of the government’s destructive actions, and it will be through hyperinflation," it says.

Healthcare bill proposal draws bipartisan criticism

Healthcare bill proposal draws bipartisan criticism The newly unveiled Senate Finance Committee healthcare bill proposal was designed to help garner bipartisan support for the reform, but instead it appears both parties are united in criticizing it.

The draft presented by the committee chairman, Democratic Senator Max Baucus of Montana, scraps the public option in favor of nonprofit healthcare cooperatives that would negotiate collective insurance coverage for members. It also mandates coverage for all Americans and includes provisions for greater regulation of private insurance companies, barring them from denying or dropping coverage of sick individuals or imposing lifetime limits on benefits.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the plan will cost $774 billion -significantly lower than some other proposals – and would save $49 billion between 2010 and 2019.

However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not been thrilled with the proposal, and while she acknowledged it includes some key provisions of the House bill, such as sweeping insurance reforms and consumer protections, she said including a government-run health insurance option would be the best way to achieve greater affordability, increased coverage and lower costs.

Meanwhile on the GOP side, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah is reported to be against mandating coverage for all Americans and against requiring large companies to offer it, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. He also opposes taxing high-cost insurance plans, something the Baucus plan makes provisions for in order to help pay for the reform.

None of the three Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee have backed the proposal.

Study: Oriental techniques work to improve work-related stress

Oriental techniques work to improve work-related stress, study says New research suggests that as little as 20 minutes of workplace meditation and yoga can lower the level of stress and contribute to greater productivity and better work performance.

Researchers from Ohio State University arrived at this conclusion after using a modified version of the so-called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), originally developed in 1979 to help hospital patients in Massachusetts assist in their own healing.

Participants in the study attended one-hour weekly group meetings held during lunchtime and practiced 20 minutes of meditation and yoga per day at their desks. After six weeks, they reported greater awareness of external stressors, felt lower stress levels and fell asleep more easily, compared to the control group.

Maryanna Klatt, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of clinical medicine at Ohio State, says many studies have linked persistent stress to chronic disease so she decided to focus on how to reduce stress before it has a chance to contribute to health issues.

She further explains that this natural approach may benefit businesses and the healthcare system as it can help employees avoid missing work days due to illness and reduce doctor’s visits, thus lowering overall healthcare costs.

Experts stress debt reduction before retirement

Experts stress debt reduction before retirementAs the value of investment portfolios has shrunk during the financial crisis, many Americans who are nearing their retirement age may benefit from the tips provided by veteran financial advisors.

Scott Hanson and Pat McClain have more than 20 years of experience working with employees of telecommunications and utilities companies, and they say many people are reexamining their priorities these days.

"Some are intentionally choosing to simplify – to live in smaller homes, collect less stuff and drive smaller, more fuel-efficient cars," says Hanson.

"As a financial advisor, I’m pleased to see this trend," he adds.

They further stress the importance of trying to eliminate as much debt as possible, especially when approaching retirement age.

A competent advisor is also important, especially one that can offer a holistic approach to creating a sound financial and investment plan.

"Clients and their financial needs come in all shapes and sizes, and it’s essential that they receive customized advice," says McClain, adding, "one-size-fits-all may be okay for some things, but it’s a seriously flawed approach to financial planning."

The two experts add that the trend towards staying on the job past the retirement age is only partially motivated by financial reasons. Just as important is the growing desire to remain active, productive and contributing members of society.


ATF: Obama breaks another campaign promise

Obama breaks another campaign promise, says ATF The anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform (ATF) has said that by placing a new tariff on tire imports from China, President Obama has broken his campaign pledge not to raise taxes on Americans making less than $250,000 a year.

It also alleged that bowing to pressure from labor unions, the president has put additional burden on already cash-strapped American families.

Grover Norquist, president of ATF, says a tariff is a tax on consumers. "This decision will drive up the cost of tires, increasing the economic burden on families already struggling with the high cost of transportation," he stresses.

The organization adds that because the tariffs will be applied to low-end tires (costing $50-$60), low-income families and individuals will be the most affected.

Last week, President Obama authorized a 35 percent tariff on Chinese tire imports in an effort to stem a surge of foreign-made tires on the U.S. market, which some have said cost 7,000 jobs here in America, according to Asia Times.

United Steelworkers president Leo W. Gerard praised the decision saying the president has "made [it] clear that he will enforce America’s trade laws and stand with American workers."

However, the move attracted criticism from free-trade and free-market supporters who expressed concerns it could spark a trade war of retaliatory tariffs and spur a protectionist trend in U.S. trade policy.

Study: Compounds in fruit seeds may protect against food-borne diseases

Compounds in fruit seeds may protect against food-borne diseases, study saysThere may soon be a reason to recycle mango seeds as new research suggests they contain compounds that may turn them into a natural food preservative and become a new resource in the fight to prevent deadly food infections.

The work was conducted by a graduate student working on her thesis in agricultural, food and nutritional science at the University of Alberta in Canada. She discovered that tannins – which are compounds extracted from fruit kernels, including mango and grapes – have inhibitory effects against various strains of bacteria such as Listeria.

The latter causes Listeriosis, a potentially deadly digestive system disease, which was responsible for the deaths of 21 people in Canada last year when it was found in some packaged meats.

Christina Engles, the researcher in the study, says that in addition to discovering a natural way of preventing food-born illnesses her work also has a commercial dimension since by processing the kernels to extract tannins businesses will be able to utilize all fruit parts and therefore increase their profits.

The study was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Obama to Wall Street: ‘Do not block regulation’

Obama to Wall Street: 'Do not block regulation'In a speech delivered in New York on Monday, and coinciding with the first anniversary of the collapse of investment bank Lehman Brothers, President Obama said regulation was urgently needed and he cautioned financial industry representatives not to try to block it.

Obama also struck a warning tone when he exhorted bankers from using the recovery to engage in "reckless behavior" that could lead to another financial meltdown, saying taxpayers were getting tired of bailouts.

"It is neither right nor responsible after you’ve recovered with the help of your government to shirk your obligation to the goal of wider recovery, a more stable system and a more broadly shared prosperity," Obama said, quoted by the Associated Press.

The president wants the financial sector reform bill ready by the end of the year, but industry groups as well as some Republicans have expressed worry about what regulation might bring.

"We must be wary of the reality that – in an attempt to address yesterday’s failures – Congress will put in place regulatory schemes which will fundamentally undermine risk taking," says Senator Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican.

The collapse of Lehman Brothers was the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history and sent shockwaves through the financial system. It subsequently transpired that a number of financial organizations, including Citibank, Merrill Lynch and AIG, were on the brink of bankruptcy due to their exposure to the subprime mortgage market.

Ultimately, several rounds of multimillion dollar bailouts saved them from following in Lehman’s footsteps, but did not prevent the economy from falling into a deep recession.

Research sheds light on benefits of selenium

Research sheds light on benefits of selenium The molecular basis of the metabolism of selenium – a trace element that is key to human health – has been discovered and detailed in a new article.

The study described in a recent issue of the journal Science explains selenium is believed to offer protection from conditions such as mood swings, cardiovascular disease, viral infections and cancer.

Researchers from Yale University and University of Illinois at Chicago have shown how selenocysteine – the most bioactive metabolite of selenium – is created on a super-sized tRNA molecule. The other 20 amino acids and their associated tRNAs use the same protein vehicle for transport to the ribosome, but selenocystine appears to have its own large tRNA that does so.

Michael Bender of the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences says the compound is a critical component of enzymes involved in a number of physiological and pathological processes.

"This study could ultimately have an impact on many aspects of human health, including the immune response, neurodegeneration, cardiovascular disease and cancer," he stresses.

The study may prompt some people to complement their diet with selenium supplements.

Research uncovers rejuvenating properties of white tea

Research uncovers rejuvenating properties of white tea Tea lovers may be happy to learn that their favorite drink has just been found to be like a fountain of youth.

According to researchers, white tea may offer significant protection from an array of health and aging problems, from lowering the risk of cancer to preventing wrinkles.

In particular, a team of British scientists and natural health experts tested 21 plant and herb extracts for their medicinal properties and found that white tea consistently outperformed them all. They explain the effects are mainly due to high levels of antioxidants as well as compounds that block the enzymes which breakdown elastin and collagen in the skin which can lead to wrinkles.

Professor Declan Naughton, from the School of Life Sciences at Kingston University in the UK, says there are indicators white tea reduces the risk of inflammation which is a factor in aging as well as a characteristic of rheumatoid arthritis and some cancers.

Those looking for ways to preserve a youthful appearance and maintain good health can find an array of remedies in natural health stores, including bladderwrack as well as supplements containing extracts of cleavers, rose, green tea, angelica, anise and pomegranate.

Survival plan should include finances, experts say

Survival plan should include finances, experts say According to the American Financial Services Association Education Foundation (AFSAEF), readying one’s finances for emergencies such as natural disasters is a critical yet often-overlooked part of the preparation process.

It says that next to stacking up on non-perishable food, water, batteries and charged mobile phones, care should be taken to put all important papers, including insurance policies, checking and savings account information and backups of computer files, in a safe location that is likely to withstand damage.

"Taking time to collect financial information before a disaster strikes can save precious time in the aftermath of one," says Susie Irvine, president and CEO of AFSAEF.

"The more information you have about your finances – including contact phone numbers – the more likely you will get help promptly," she adds.

AFSAEF further say that setting aside money in a checking or savings account for easy withdrawal in an emergency can also save valuable time.

In the aftermath of floods, hurricanes and other disasters, insurance and other type of financial fraud frequently proliferates, so care should be taken to research companies offering help before assistance is accepted.

AFSAEF is based in Washington, DC and provides tips on responsible money management. It is affiliated with the American Financial Services Association, the national trade association for the consumer credit industry.

The Atlantic hurricane season lasts through November 1.

Despite massive deficit, earmarks increase in 2009

Despite massive deficit, earmarks increase in 2009 Media reports suggest excessive government spending has not ended with the bailouts of financial companies and the stimulus bill, as estimates suggests earmarks have grown from last year.

The fiscal year ends on September 30, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is pushing for appropriations bills to be passed and signed into law on time, something which has not happened since the mid-1990s.

At the same time, it has transpired that in addition to the $787 billion stimulus package and the $410 billion omnibus spending bill passed earlier this year, total earmarks have increased from $18.3 billion in 2008 to $19.9 billion in 2009, according to

Earmarks are spending measures inserted into appropriations bills at the request of individual lawmakers and typically benefit projects in their home states. They are, according to Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, "part and parcel of the pay-to-play system that permeates Washington."

Democrats in both Houses are among those who have pushed for most pork barrel spending this fiscal year, with Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia leading the pack at $349.6 million (95 earmarks) and Representative John Murtha of Pennsylvania who has won 46 of them at the cost to taxpayers of $120.5 million, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Meanwhile, a recent White House budget office estimate put the federal deficit at $9 trillion for the 2010-2019 time period.