Associated Press

Obama vows to press on after Clean Power Plan setback

WASHINGTON (AP) — The administration of President Barack Obama is vowing to press ahead with efforts to curtail greenhouse gas emissions after a divided Supreme Court put his signature plan to address climate change on hold until after legal challenges are resolved. The Feb. 9 surprising move by the court is a blow to Obama and a victory for the coalition of 27 mostly Republican-led states and industry opponents, who call the regulations “an unprecedented power grab.” By issuing the temporary freeze, a 5-4 majority of the justices signaled that opponents made strong arguments against the rules. The high court’s four liberal justices said they would have denied the request for delay. The administration’s plan aims to stave off the worst predicted impacts of climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions at existing power plants by about one-third by 2030. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the administration’s plan is based on a strong legal and technical foundation, and gives the states time to develop cost-effective plans to reduce emissions. He also said the administration will continue to “take aggressive steps to make forward progress to reduce carbon emissions.” A federal appeals court in Washington last month refused to put the plan on hold. That lower court is not likely to issue a ruling on the legality of the plan until months after it hears oral arguments begin on June 2. Any decision will likely be appealed to the Supreme Court, meaning resolution of the legal fight is not likely to happen until after Obama leaves office. Compliance with the new rules isn’t required until 2022, but states must submit their plans to the Environmental Protection Administration by September or seek an extension. Many states opposing the plan depend on economic activity tied to such fossil fuels as coal, oil and gas. They argued that the plan oversteps federal authority to restrict carbon emissions, and that electricity providers would have to spend billions of dollars to begin complying with a rule that might end up being overturned. Attorney General Patrick Morrisey of West Virginia, whose coal-dependent state is helping lead the legal fight, hailed the court’s decision. “We are thrilled that the Supreme Court realized the rule’s immediate impact and froze its implementation, protecting workers and saving countless dollars as our fight against its legality continues,” Morrisey said. Implementation of the rules is considered essential to the United States meeting emissions-reduction targets in a global climate agreement signed in Paris last month. The Obama administration and environmental groups also say the plan will spur new clean-energy jobs. In opposing the request for delay, the EPA argued that states had plenty of time to comply with the requirements as the rule is rolled out over the next 6 years. “A stay that delays all of the rule’s deadlines would postpone reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and thus contribute to the problem of global climate change even if the rule is ultimately sustained,” U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli said in legal filings. Environmentalists were stunned by the court’s action, which they stressed did not reflect a decision on the relative strength of the administration’s case. “The Clean Power Plan has a firm anchor in our nation’s clean air laws and a strong scientific record, and we look forward to presenting our case on the merits in the courts,” said Vickie Patton, a lawyer for Environmental Defense Fund, which is a party to the case. To convince the high court to temporarily halt the plan, opponents had to convince the justices that there was a “fair prospect” the court might strike down the rule. The court also had to consider whether denying a stay would cause irreparable harm to the states and utility companies affected. The unsigned, one-page order blocks the rules from taking effect while the legal fight plays out in the appeals court and during any further appeal to the Supreme Court, a process that easily could extend into 2017. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan would have denied the request for delay.

Obama vows to press on after Clean Power Plan setback

WASHINGTON (AP) — The administration of President Barack Obama is vowing to press ahead with efforts to curtail greenhouse gas emissions after a divided Supreme Court put his signature plan to address climate change on hold until after legal challenges are resolved. The Feb. 9 surprising move by the court is a blow to Obama and a victory for the coalition of 27 mostly Republican-led states and industry opponents, who call the regulations “an unprecedented power grab.” By issuing the temporary freeze, a 5-4 majority of the justices signaled that opponents made strong arguments against the rules. The high court’s four liberal justices said they would have denied the request for delay. The administration’s plan aims to stave off the worst predicted impacts of climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions at existing power plants by about one-third by 2030. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the administration’s plan is based on a strong legal and technical foundation, and gives the states time to develop cost-effective plans to reduce emissions. He also said the administration will continue to “take aggressive steps to make forward progress to reduce carbon emissions.” A federal appeals court in Washington last month refused to put the plan on hold. That lower court is not likely to issue a ruling on the legality of the plan until months after it hears oral arguments begin on June 2. Any decision will likely be appealed to the Supreme Court, meaning resolution of the legal fight is not likely to happen until after Obama leaves office. Compliance with the new rules isn’t required until 2022, but states must submit their plans to the Environmental Protection Administration by September or seek an extension. Many states opposing the plan depend on economic activity tied to such fossil fuels as coal, oil and gas. They argued that the plan oversteps federal authority to restrict carbon emissions, and that electricity providers would have to spend billions of dollars to begin complying with a rule that might end up being overturned. Attorney General Patrick Morrisey of West Virginia, whose coal-dependent state is helping lead the legal fight, hailed the court’s decision. “We are thrilled that the Supreme Court realized the rule’s immediate impact and froze its implementation, protecting workers and saving countless dollars as our fight against its legality continues,” Morrisey said. Implementation of the rules is considered essential to the United States meeting emissions-reduction targets in a global climate agreement signed in Paris last month. The Obama administration and environmental groups also say the plan will spur new clean-energy jobs. In opposing the request for delay, the EPA argued that states had plenty of time to comply with the requirements as the rule is rolled out over the next 6 years. “A stay that delays all of the rule’s deadlines would postpone reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and thus contribute to the problem of global climate change even if the rule is ultimately sustained,” U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli said in legal filings. Environmentalists were stunned by the court’s action, which they stressed did not reflect a decision on the relative strength of the administration’s case. “The Clean Power Plan has a firm anchor in our nation’s clean air laws and a strong scientific record, and we look forward to presenting our case on the merits in the courts,” said Vickie Patton, a lawyer for Environmental Defense Fund, which is a party to the case. To convince the high court to temporarily halt the plan, opponents had to convince the justices that there was a “fair prospect” the court might strike down the rule. The court also had to consider whether denying a stay would cause irreparable harm to the states and utility companies affected. The unsigned, one-page order blocks the rules from taking effect while the legal fight plays out in the appeals court and during any further appeal to the Supreme Court, a process that easily could extend into 2017. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan would have denied the request for delay.

Moda Health suspension lifted; company must raise $179M

JUNEAU (AP) — Insurance regulators in Alaska and Oregon announced Feb. 8 that a company that had been suspended from offering health insurance policies in the states over concerns with its financial condition will be allowed to resume that business. The Alaska Division of Insurance and the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services said they have reached an agreement with Moda Health Plan Inc. aimed at stabilizing its financial position. The agencies said the agreement will allow Moda to resume selling and renewing policies to individual and group customers in Alaska and Oregon. Both states late last month suspended Moda from accepting new or renewal policies, citing concerns with the company’s financial situation. In a release, Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon department, said initially the agency thought it might be prudent for Moda to leave the individual market. The steps outlined in the consent order will instead allow consumers to continue their health coverage with no changes, he said. The agreement reached “is the best option for consumers because it will not disrupt their current policies,” he said. The department said it retains the ability to respond if Moda doesn’t comply with all the requirements in the order. “We worked very hard to keep them” in the market, said Alaska Division of Insurance Director Lori Wing-Heier. Moda is one of two companies that have been offering individual health insurance policies for Alaskans on the federally facilitated online marketplace. Wing-Heier said she has asked the federal government to put Moda back on the exchange and has also requested a two-week special enrollment period. Wing-Heier said people may have selected Moda but had not finalized their enrollment. The initial action against Moda took place near the end of the latest open enrollment period on the marketplace. Alaska officials in a release said both states came to an agreement with Moda over the weekend that outlines a plan for the company to stabilize its financial position and continue to offer coverage. The agreement calls for Moda to raise at least $179 million, which is expected to allow the company to continue providing services through 2016. Of that, $15 million would be put aside for the protection of Alaska policyholders, Wing-Heier said. Among other things, Moda also must obtain approval from Oregon regulators before awarding executive salary increases or bonuses. Wing-Heier said insurers not only in Alaska but across the country have had a tough time. Moda has made a commitment to try to stay in the market, she said. “They could’ve taken a much easier route and said, ‘We’re out of health insurance,’ or ‘We’re out of Alaska, period,’ and they did not take that,” she said. Since Jan. 27, Moda has worked through the process of assuring the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services of its ability to continue to serve its individual customers in Oregon and Alaska, said Robert Gootee, CEO of Moda Inc., the parent company of Moda Health Plan. “They have done an excellent job of quickly analyzing a difficult and rapidly changing set of circumstances,” he said in a statement. He said he’s pleased an agreement has been reached on a path forward. About 10,000 Alaskans are enrolled by Moda on the individual market and about 7,500 on the small group market, Wing-Heier has said. About 244,000 Oregon residents were enrolled in Moda plans in the individual, small group and large group markets as of Sept. 30, according to the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services.

Oil price drop pushes Shell 2015 profit down 44 percent

LONDON (AP) — Royal Dutch Shell said fourth-quarter earnings tumbled 44 percent as the collapse in oil prices took its toll on another global energy giant. Profit adjusted for changes in the value of inventories and one-time items dropped to $1.83 billion from $3.26 billion in the same period a year earlier, the Anglo-Dutch company said Feb. 4. The results came days after Shell sealed a $52.4 billion takeover of BG Group Plc, which will increase the company’s proven reserves of oil and natural gas by 25 percent. While critics questioned the deal because of the plummeting price of oil, CEO Ben van Beurden promised it would rejuvenate Shell. The BG deal comes as Shell and other oil companies are slashing jobs and postponing investments to adjust the bottom line to the dramatically lower oil prices. Jobs will also be eliminated in the Shell-BG deal and other efforts to boost competitive performance. In a statement released last month just before shareholders voted on the BG merger, Shell said that streamlining and integration from the deal and other cost cutting would include the loss of 10,000 staff and contractor positions across both companies in 2015-2016. “In 2015, we significantly curtailed spending by reducing the number of new investment decisions and designing lower-cost development solutions,” van Beurden said. “Shell will take further impactful decisions to manage through the oil price downturn, should conditions warrant that.” Oil prices have been falling for over a year. Brent crude, the benchmark for international oil, hit a 12-year low of $27.10 a barrel in January, having been above $100 a barrel in September 2014. It traded at $30.32 on Feb. 9. Shell cut capital investment by $8.4 billion to $28.9 billion and slashed operating costs by $4.1 billion to $41.1 billion for 2015. The company expects another $3 billion in cuts this year. Net income improved 58 percent to $939 million. Van Beurden told reporters in a webcast that he expected prices would rebound later in the year or in the early part of next year. The fundamentals point to a higher price, he said. “Can oil prices go lower? I’m sure they can. Will they go lower? I don’t know,” he said. “If you look at ... the slightly longer run, you are not going to see structurally lower oil prices in the $30s.” The report comes amid sweeping changes for the company. Shell has exited from exploring in Alaska for the foreseeable future and cancelled the Carmon Creek heavy oil project. Oil supplies are high even though consumption growth has tailed off, particularly in China. OPEC members, meanwhile, haven’t wanted to cut production — even at a time Iran wants to turn on the taps after decades of sanctions. Campaign groups like Greenpeace suggest it’s time the oil companies focused on other forms of energy, citing more electric cars, solar panels, and better-insulated homes. “Shell and BP have bet heavily on the wrong energy sources, and now they’re losing big,” Greenpeace UK’s senior climate adviser Charlie Kronick said. “The problem is that with thousands of jobs, billions in investments and people’s pensions tied up with their companies’ fortunes, Big Oil’s bosses won’t be the only ones to pay for their shortsightedness.”

Walker seeks $65.5M extra for current fiscal year

JUNEAU (AP) — Gov. Bill Walker's administration is requesting an additional $65.5 million in spending for the current fiscal year. The supplemental request released Wednesday includes $47.5 million for costs related to the wildland firefighting season. Alaska had its second largest fire season in terms of acreage burned in 2015. The budget request includes funding to address increased caseloads at the Office of Public Advocacy and cover medical costs and staffing needs at juvenile justice centers. It also seeks funds for emergency repairs for failing water lines at the Anvil Mountain Correctional Center and for the Eklutna overpass. This is on top of supplemental items previously requested, including $35.3 million for the community revenue sharing fund. The administration also has proposed the use of pension obligation bonds.  

Lawmakers propose bill to privatize air traffic control

WASHINGTON (AP) — Responsibility for the nation’s air traffic control operations would shift from the government to a private, nonprofit corporation under legislation introduced Feb. 3 as part of an overhaul of how Washington oversees the aviation system. The measure extends for six years the authority of the Federal Aviation Administration and continues its role as the regulator of aviation safety, including the safety of air traffic operations. It also prohibits cellphone calls by airline passengers in-flight, and requires airlines refund bag fees when checked bags arrive more than 24 hours overdue. But the FAA would lose responsibility for day-to-day air traffic operations and the transition from a radar-based traffic control system to one based on satellite technology. A board representing aviation system users would govern the new, federally chartered air traffic control corporation. The bill would complete the transfer of air traffic operations, hundreds of facilities and about 38,000 workers to the new corporation within three years. Rep. Bill Shuster, the bill’s chief sponsor, said it was a “transformational” solution and greatly needed because modernization of the air traffic system is taking too long and costing too much. Without an overhaul, the system won’t be able to keep up with growing air traffic demands and congestion will increase, said Shuster, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Shuster, R-Pa., told reporters that he also wants to revamp how air traffic operations are financed, eliminating most airline ticket taxes in favor of a fee-based system. The proposal envisions charging commercial operators — airlines, air cargo companies, charter plane, air taxi services and others — for the services they use. Private pilots and noncommercial aircraft operators would continue the same fuel and other taxes as before rather than service fees. But the bill doesn’t specify how the tax and fee structure would be changed because decisions on taxes are up to the House Ways and Means Committee; Shuster is working with that committee, a spokesman said. It’s unclear if this would ultimately result in lower airfares since airlines would presumably pass along the cost of the new fees to their customers, but the hope is that privatizing air traffic control will produce greater efficiency and reduce the overall cost of the system, according to Republican committee aides. The aides briefed reporters on the condition that they not be named because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the senior Democrat on the committee, said Democrats strongly oppose the privatization plan, although they’re happy with most of the rest of the bill. “This privatization proposal gives a private corporation the power to tax the American public to pay for safe operations, and it hands over a public asset worth billions of dollars to a private corporation for free,” DeFazio said. The corporation would effectively become a monopoly that picks winners and losers and decides routes, schedules, and slots based on profit margins, he said. Airlines, the lobbying muscle behind the bill, have long said the fairest way to pay for the air traffic system is to have all aircraft operators pay fees for the services they use, such as controller-directed takeoffs and landings and government weather reports. Most other aircraft operators oppose a fee system, which they say would shift a greater share of paying for the air traffic system away from airlines and onto them. The model for Shuster’s proposal is Canada, which shifted its air traffic operations to a nonprofit corporation about a decade ago. In the U.S., private contractors who provide air traffic control services at small airports general have lower costs than at FAA facilities because they hire fewer personnel and pay lower salaries. The FAA has worked on its “NextGen” modernization program for more than a decade and says much progress has been made. Lawmakers and airlines say they have yet to see significant benefits from the billions of dollars spent on modernization and are deeply frustrated. Shuster and Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., the aviation subcommittee chairman and the bill’s co-sponsor, gained an influential ally Wednesday when the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, which represents about 14,000 air traffic controllers, announced its support for the bill. The bill also: • Seeks to force the FAA to issue regulations governing the use of small drones more quickly by threatening to impose its own rules on small drone operations. • Gives the FAA administrator the ability to waive safety rules for classes of commercial drone operations like limitation on how far and how high drones are allowed to fly and a prohibition on nighttime flights. • Would continue to bar the FAA from issuing safety regulations banning cargo shipments of lithium batteries on passenger planes unless the International Civil Aviation Organization adopts a ban first.

Alaska, Oregon suspend Moda Health as finances worsen

Alaska insurance regulators on Jan. 28 suspended Moda Health Plan from accepting new or renewal policies in the state, citing concerns with the Oregon-based company’s financial situation. The Alaska Division of Insurance acted after officials in Oregon placed the company under supervision because of its financial condition. Moda is one of two companies offering individual insurance policies for Alaskans on the federally facilitated health insurance marketplace. The other is Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield. The division of insurance last year approved average rate increases of nearly 40 percent for both companies. The Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services said its supervision order calls for the company to obtain sufficient capital and to present a business plan that demonstrates Moda can operate in sound financial manner into the future. The department said its actions were prompted by Moda’s “excessive operating losses and inadequate capital and surplus.” Under the order, Moda cannot issue new policies or renew current policies in the individual market or add new groups in Oregon, the department said in a release. The department said it will begin working with Moda to transfer its individual market plans to another carrier. “Our primary goal is to ensure consumers are protected,” Patrick Allen, the department’s director, said in a release. “We will continue to work closely with the company to find a sustainable path going forward while minimizing risk to consumers.” Lisa Morawski, a spokeswoman for the department, said a lot of what happens next will depend on the plan that Moda presents and whether the department finds it acceptable. About 10,000 Alaskans are enrolled by Moda on the individual market and about 7,500 on the small group market, Alaska Division of Insurance Director Lori Wing-Heier said in an email response to questions. There are other options in the group market, she said. “The division will do everything within its authority to see that Moda’s policyholders will continue to access medical services until they can be transitioned to another insurer,” Wing-Heier said in a release. About 244,000 Oregon residents were enrolled in Moda plans in the individual, small group and large group markets as of Sept. 30, according to the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services. U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said Thursday’s announcement “is meant to protect Alaskans from the failings of an individual insurance provider, but it also begs the question of the overall instability of our current health care system.” The system went through a shake-up last year, with other companies announcing their departure from the individual market. “The Alaska Division of Insurance has made assurances that Moda policy holders will continue to be able to access health care services, their claims will be paid and consumers will be protected,” Young said in a release. “Alaskans should know that the state and the congressional delegation will be working with them as this process moves forward.”

Federal officials consider Donlin mine’s subsistence impact

BETHEL — Two federal agencies have weighed in on the potential impacts the proposed Donlin Creek mine could have on subsistence along the Kuskokwim River. Donlin Gold LLC estimates it could excavate about 34 million ounces of gold over three decades from the proposed open pit mine near the village of Crooked Creek, KYUK-AM reported. The Army Corps of Engineers predicts that the mine would have a minor to moderate impact on subsistence practices and resources. “Minor are impacts that tend to be low intensity, temporary duration, and local in extent typically to common resources that may experience more intense longer-term impacts,” said Keith Gordon, Army Corps Project Manager for the Donlin project. Alan Bittner, field manager for the Bureau of Land Management, agrees that subsistence could be affected by the mine proposal. “When we looked at all three major components of the project, it seemed like there was significant potential for subsistence resources to be affected,” Bittner said. Plans for the mine project also include barging on the Kuskokwim River and a natural gas pipeline spanning 300 miles to Cook Inlet. “Simply put,” Bittner said, “this is a pretty big project. There’s big components to it, and our finding is that the possibility exists in any of those major components to affect subsistence resources.” The BLM is planning to gather feedback from the public as it looks further into how subsistence resources and access to those resources will be affected by the project. “So our preliminary finding is that it may (be affected), and we need to hear from people about whether that’s true for them or not — the individuals who are actually in the communities and subsistence is a part of their life,” Bittner said. The Army Corps, which is the lead federal agency creating the project’s environmental impact statement, is also looking to engage with the community by responding to their critiques and considering any alternative solutions they may have for the project. “And if they can give us some of those reasons, give us some information about why we need to do more, that gives us something we can look back at and determine if the analysis needs to go to a deeper level or needs to be expanded,” Gordon said.

BP reports 91 percent fall in fourth quarter earnings

LONDON (AP) — BP’s fourth-quarter earnings plunged 91 percent amid sharp declines in oil prices as the British energy company continued to make provision for the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and streamline operations. The company reported Feb. 2 that underlying replacement cost profit fell to $196 million from $2.2 billion in the same quarter a year earlier. The figure is an oil industry accounting standard that includes fluctuations in the price of oil and excludes one-time items. “It’s going to be a very turbulent year for our industry,” CEO Bob Dudley said as he opened a news conference in London. Oil companies are slashing jobs and delaying investments as crude prices plummet. Brent crude, the benchmark for international oil, fell 34 percent last year and hit a 12-year low of $27.10 a barrel in January. It traded at $34.13 on Feb. 1, having been above $100 a barrel as recently as September 2014. The company also set aside an additional $443 million in the quarter to cover costs related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Charges for the spill now total $55.5 billion. BP stock fell sharply on the news by early afternoon, dropping nearly 9 percent to $29.01. Yet Dudley took the numbers in stride, arguing that the markets had failed to take into account a robust $5.8 billion operating cash flow for the quarter. The overall net loss narrowed to $3.3 billion from $4.4 billion a year earlier. The company also said it was taking steps to streamline redundant systems put in place for legal reasons after the spill. “We have our confidence back now,” he said. The company said it reduced controllable cash costs by $3.4 billion last year, and estimated future cuts at almost $3.6 billion. It forecast asset sales of as much as $5 billion this year. BP also announced 3,000 job cuts globally by the end of 2017. That is in addition to 4,000 cuts planned in exploration and production — including some 600 in North Sea operations. BP’s job cuts will amount to 13 percent of its Alaskan workforce, or about 270 positions. European rival Royal Dutch Shell, which reports earnings later this week, said in January that its planned merger with British gas producer BG Group would result in some 10,000 staff and contractor job losses across both companies. Oil prices have plunged because global supply is high at a time when consumption is growing more slowly than expected, particularly in China. OPEC members, meanwhile, are refusing to cut production for fear of losing market share to non-members like the U.S. and Russia. And Iran is looking to start pumping more after decades of sanctions. BP is supported somewhat during the current price slump by higher margins at its downstream business, which includes refining and selling fuels. But that’s not enough to offset the broader impact of the market drop, said Spencer Welch, an oil expert at IHS. “Without the ongoing costs of Macondo/Gulf of Mexico, then BP would still have made a reasonable profit in 2015, mostly from the Downstream business,” Welch said in an email. Dudley said he expected a tough 2016, particularly in the first half. There are few predictions that oil prices will bounce back quickly, with some analysts forecasting they will drop to near $10 a barrel. And that means lots of uncertainty. “I expect continued layoffs, restructurings, and consolidated among oil and gas companies,” said Gianna Bern, associate teaching professor of finance at the University of Notre Dame. “We are witnessing the perfect storm in this industry.”

IG: Anchorage among airports with too few traffic controllers

WASHINGTON (AP) — There are too few fully qualified controllers at more than a dozen of the nation’s busiest air traffic facilities stretching from Atlanta to Anchorage, according to report released Jan. 26 by a government watchdog. The 13 airport towers, approach control facilities and en route centers have fewer fully trained controllers than the minimum number established by the Federal Aviation Administration specifically for each facility, Transportation Department’s inspector general said. The FAA considers the facilities fully staffed because controllers still in training are used to fill the gaps. But the report says there is great variation among trainee skill levels and readiness to work on their own. It typically takes about three to five years for a trainee to become fully qualified. Many trainees need fully qualified controllers to sit alongside and watch while they direct air traffic, ready to step in if there is a problem. Other trainees have reached a level of proficiency where they’re able to work alone. The report also questions the validity of the minimum staffing levels the FAA has assigned to the facilities, finding fault with the agency’s methodology. The report comes as member of Congress gear up for a fight over whether to spin off air traffic control operations from the FAA and place them under the control of a nonprofit corporation made up of airlines, airports and other aviation stakeholders. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is expected to introduce a bill within the next few weeks. The concept has the support of most of the airline industry with the exception of Delta Air Lines. But key House and Senate Democrats, as well as some business and general aviation groups, are opposed. The inspector general’s office recently said in a separate report that spending on air traffic control operations has doubled over two decades, while productivity has declined substantially and efforts to improve performance have been ineffective. Managers at some the 23 key facilities examined in the report cited a higher number of controllers needed to fill all work shifts than the FAA’s designated minimum number of personnel for that facility. “As a result, there is still considerable debate and uncertainty regarding how many controllers FAA actually needs for its most critical facilities,” wrote Matthew Hampton, assistant inspector general for aviation. Some managers agreed that trainees contribute to handling the workload, while others indicated that meeting on-the-job training requirements limited the contribution of trainees, the report said. The 13 facilities where there were less than the designated minimum number of fully trained controllers are the Anchorage tower/approach control, Atlanta approach control, Chicago approach control, Chicago’s O’Hare tower, Denver approach control, Dallas approach control, Houston approach control, New York’s John F. Kennedy tower, New York’s approach control, New York’s high altitude traffic center, Las Vegas’ approach control, Miami’s tower, and Albuquerque’s high altitude traffic center. For example, at the New York approach control facility, where handling air traffic is notoriously demanding, there were 150 fully qualified controllers even though the minimum set by the FAA was 173. There were also 53 trainees. The FAA data on staffing levels is from October 2014. The report doesn’t explain why more current data wasn’t used. Responding to the report, the FAA said in a statement that it is expediting transfers of controllers “from well-staffed facilities to those needing additional personnel.” The agency also said it has recently concluded research on how controllers do their jobs that will help improve overall staffing standards. Further complicating the picture is the large share of fully qualified controllers who are eligible to retire. At the O’Hare airport tower, for example, 24 of the 48 fully qualified controllers were eligible to retire. At the airport tower in Miami, 30 of the 80 fully qualified controllers were eligible to retire. Under FAA rules, any controller who has worked directing air traffic for 25 years is eligible for retirement benefits. Any controller over age 50 who has worked a minimum of 20 years is also eligible for retirement benefits. The FAA has set 56 as the mandatory retirement age for controllers, but most controllers retire before that. The FAA doesn’t consider the retirement situation at specific facilities when estimating how many new controllers it needs to hire, but rather uses a national forecast of retirements, the report said. “FAA does not have the data or an effective model in place to fully and accurately identify how many controllers FAA needs to maintain efficiency without compromising safety,” Hampton wrote.

Walker’s Permanent Fund plan gets first Senate hearing

JUNEAU (AP) — The chairman of the Senate State Affairs Committee said Jan. 26 that he wants to vet several ideas surrounding the use of Alaska Permanent Fund earnings. Sen. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, said that could include a constitutional amendment to allow voters to weigh in on the matter. So far, such a measure has not been introduced. Stoltze said he wants to be able to have different bills and ideas ready to send to the Senate Finance Committee for additional review. Stoltze’s committee held its first hearing Jan. 26 on Gov. Bill Walker’s plan to use the Permanent Fund as an endowment of sorts, fed by oil tax revenue and a portion of royalties. Earnings from the Fund, bolstered by a transfer from savings, would help pay for state government, moving the state away from budgeting around volatile oil revenue. The plan would change how the annual dividends most Alaskans receive are calculated, basing them on a portion of royalties rather than on the performance of the Fund. This year would be a transitional year for the dividend, and Walker’s budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year calls for oil-tax revenue and the bulk of royalties to go into the earnings reserve. The use of Permanent Fund earnings is a centerpiece of Walker’s budget plan. But questions have been raised about whether the Fund’s earnings reserve account must be swept into the constitutional budget reserve to repay money that’s been taken out of it. The Department of Law, in a memo to the House Finance co-chairs this week, said it wouldn’t. In recent years, lawmakers have approved taking money from the constitutional budget reserve to help with the state’s pension shortfall and to help balance the budget amid deficits fueled by low oil prices. Under the constitution, if money is taken from the budget reserve, money in the general Fund available to spend at the end of each fiscal year is to be deposited into the budget reserve until it’s repaid. A three-quarter vote of each the House and Senate generally is needed to access the budget reserve. State law defines the earnings reserve as a separate account in the Permanent Fund. But the Legislative Finance Division has argued that putting money other than Permanent Fund earnings into the earnings reserve would change the nature of that account. The Department of Law’s memo, signed by Senior Assistant Attorney General William Milks on behalf of the attorney general, acknowledges that the earnings reserve would no longer be comprised solely of Permanent Fund income and that the account would be used for state government costs rather than restricted to paying dividends. But, the memo states, that doesn’t change the earnings reserve into a Fund within the general Fund. The account has always been available to pay for government even if it hasn’t been used that way, the memo states. Legislative Finance Division Director David Teal said he wanted to have the issue at least discussed. If adopted as proposed by the administration, he said he’s concerned about a potential court challenge. A memo from Legislative Legal Services, requested by Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, states that the appropriation of non- Permanent Fund income to the earnings reserve, as proposed “poses a novel issue not yet resolved by the Alaska Supreme Court.” Some legislators have indicated they’re interested in looking at some use of Permanent Fund earnings to address the deficit. At least two bills with different approaches than Walker has proposed are pending. Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, said he thinks lawmakers should consider not inflation proofing the Permanent Fund and using that $900 million. He also wants to change the state’s oil tax credit structure. Laura Achee, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., said by email that most of the Fund’s assets rise and fall with inflation and are “self-inflation proofing.” The Legislature traditionally also has used Fund income toward inflation-proofing the Fund’s principal.

Sullivan moves to halt proposed ban on Alaska predator hunts

FAIRBANKS — U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan is looking to stop a proposed U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ban on some bear, wolf and coyote hunts on federal wildlife refuges in the state. An amendment to Sullivan’s Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015 would prohibit the federal agency from enacting hunting restrictions the agency announced earlier this month, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported. Federal wildlife officials on Jan. 8 proposed changes to hunting and trapping rules for national wildlife refuges in Alaska, covering about 77 million acres. The proposal includes bans on brown bear baiting, killing wolves and coyotes during the denning season and targeting bears with snares or traps. Hunts like those violate the agency’s conservation mission by deliberately targeting predators to increase the output of large game animal like deer, caribou and moose for human consumption, according to the text of the proposed rule. Sullivan’s amendment is the latest move in a decades-long dispute over the U.S. government’s control of Alaska’s federal lands. State leaders and legislators have argued that the federal government has violated the Statehood Act and the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act that created most of the federal wildlife refuges in the state. “It would fundamentally change the relationship the Fish and Wildlife Service has with individual states from one of cooperation to subservience,” Sullivan said Wednesday. “And that is not what the federal laws — ANILCA, the Statehood Act — have guaranteed Alaska.” But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has the power to make additional rules in support of its conservation mission, according to the explanation of the agency’s proposed rule published in the Federal Register. “Under ANILCA, each refuge in Alaska has a nonexclusive list of purposes for which it was established, including ‘conserve fish and wildlife populations and habitats in their natural diversity,” the proposed rule states. Sullivan’s bill is now out of committee, but he said he was not sure when it would reach the Senate floor. In addition to the language added Wednesday, the bill addresses several other federal sports hunting rules. It seeks to loosen the definition of “baited areas” used in bird hunting rules and allows for more funds from gun and ammunition sales to go toward public shooting ranges.  

Highway officials monitor overflow near Dalton Highway

State highway officials are watching overflow that has emerged near a northern section of the Dalton Highway. The Alaska Department of Transportation says overflow is along Miles 395 to 405. That's the same section that saw unprecedented highway flooding last spring from the Sag River. Overflow so far is not threatening the road. Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. and University of Alaska Fairbanks personnel are monitoring overflow with data provided by the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. State crews are building snow berms and installing burlap fences. The burlap wicks water and freezes, forming a barrier next to the road. Also helping is the height of the road. About nine miles of road was raised 8-10 feet last summer. Satellite imagery is helping identify the path of overflow.  

Groceries run low in Alaska after cargo ship problem

(AP) — Grocery stores in Alaska are running low on some foods after a cargo ship was delayed by a mechanical issue. Tote Maritime Alaska's North Star, which regularly ships groceries and other goods between Tacoma and Anchorage, was supposed to leave Jan. 14 and arrive on Jan. 17. A problem was discovered shortly before its departure. Tote Maritime Vice President Grace Greene couldn't say specifically what the mechanical issue was, but said the North Star is expected to be fixed by early next week. Groceries were moved to the company's other ship, the Midnight Sun, and are expected to arrive soon. "There's not going to be a grocery shortage," Greene said. "Anytime we have a disruption in our service, we work to make sure the priority freight is handled right away." Roughly 85 percent of all goods that arrive in Alaska come through the port of Anchorage, which receives four major cargo shipments a week. "If there's something — you eat it, wear it or use it — it comes here on the ship," Greene said. " So sometimes during delays like this, you can see some issues with getting enough products on the shelves." Many of the refrigerator and freezer shelves in Anchorage's Natural Pantry grocery store sat empty for a couple of days because of the North Star delay, manager Jared Solberg told the Alaska Dispatch News. The store is still missing many dry goods, like boxed and canned food. "It did affect us," Solberg said. "Our chill and freeze items, we just got in today (Tuesday). We normally get them on Sunday night." Emergency officials say the North Star's delay is a reminder of what Alaska could face if the port were cut-off in an emergency or natural disaster. "If all routes of supply were cut off, we would have five to seven days' worth of supplies within the state," Jeremy Zidek of State Division of Emergency Management told KTVA-TV. Zidek said there are other ways they could bring supplies into the state, but those take time. He said it's important for everyone to have a degree of self-sufficiency. The Division of Emergency Management recommends that Alaska residents have a five to seven day supply of food on hand.

BP to cut 4,000 jobs amid oil price plunge

LONDON (AP) — Oil company BP is cutting some 4,000 jobs in exploration and production over the next two years amid sharp drops in the price of crude. The cuts in BP's upstream business globally will include the loss of some 600 jobs in the North Sea. The cost-cutting announced Tuesday comes as the price of oil dropped to a 12 year-low near $31 a barrel. Part of the decline is due to concern over a drop in demand in China, which is depressing commodity prices worldwide. Company officials began notifying employees of the action in town hall meetings in Scotland. Mark Thomas, regional president for BP North Sea, says in a statement that because of toughening market conditions "we need to take specific steps to ensure our business remains competitive and robust."  

TransCanada to file 2 legal challenges to Keystone rejection

HOUSTON (AP) — The Canadian company that proposed the Keystone XL oil pipeline filed a lawsuit over the U.S. government's rejection of the project and announced it plans to file a second legal challenge that will seek more than $15 billion in damages. TransCanada filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday in Houston alleging President Barack Obama's decision in November to kill the pipeline exceeded his power under the U.S. Constitution. The company also announced the same day that it will submit a separate petition seeking the billions in damages, alleging the U.S. breached its obligations under the North American Free Trade Agreement. In November, Obama quashed the pipeline, declaring it would have undercut U.S. efforts to clinch a global climate change deal at the center of his environmental legacy. The president said he agreed with a State Department conclusion that Keystone wouldn't advance U.S. national interests. "TransCanada has been unjustly deprived of the value of its multi-billion dollar investment by the U.S. Administration's action," TransCanada said in a statement. "As the administration candidly admitted, its decision was not based on the merits of the project. Rather, the denial was a symbolic gesture based on speculation about the (false) perceptions of the international community regarding the administration's leadership on climate change." In its lawsuit, TransCanada alleges Obama's decision exceeded his powers as president and infringed upon Congress' power under the Constitution to regulate interstate and international commerce. The White House and the State Department both declined to comment on the lawsuit or the NAFTA challenge. The lawsuit does not seek any monetary damages but asks for a ruling that the denial of the pipeline permit was without legal merit and that the federal government officials named in the lawsuit not be allowed to enforce Obama's decision to not proceed with the pipeline. Named as defendants in the lawsuit are: Secretary of State John Kerry; U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch; Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson; and Secretary of the Department of Interior Sally Jewell. TransCanada said it plans to submit a separate petition that alleges the U.S. breached four articles under NAFTA — which governs trade between the U.S., Canada and Mexico — that provide financial protections for all Canadian investors. "The denial was based on politics, not the merits of the application," attorneys for TransCanada said in a notice they filed with the State Department on Wednesday that the company will submit a claim of arbitration under NAFTA and ask for more than $15 billion in damages. TransCanada first applied for Keystone permits in September 2008 — shortly before Obama was elected. As envisioned, Keystone would snake from Canada's tar sands through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, then connect with existing pipelines to carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to specialized refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast. Most pipelines wait roughly a year and a half for permits to cross the U.S. border, but Keystone's review dragged on more than five times as long as average, according to an Associated Press analysis. Republicans, Canadian politicians and the energy industry argued the pipeline would create thousands of jobs and inject billions into the economy. But Democrats and environmental groups latched onto Keystone as just the type of project that must be phased out if the world is to seriously combat climate change. ___ Associated Press reporter Josh Lederman contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.

Details sparing on Alaska plane crash as probe continues

(AP) — Authorities are declining to comment on any possible connection between a deadly plane crash in downtown Anchorage and the fact that the pilot's wife worked in one of the two buildings the small plane hit. The FBI and other agencies were still investigating the Tuesday morning wreck that killed 42-year-old pilot Doug Demarest, spokeswoman Staci Feger-Pellessier said Wednesday. Demarest was flying a Cessna 172 owned by the Civil Air Patrol when he clipped the building that houses law firm Dorsey & Whitney and then crashed into an unoccupied commercial building. He died at the scene, and no one else was hurt. Demarest joined the Civil Air Patrol five years ago, but the civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force called the flight unauthorized. The Civil Air Patrol is made up of volunteers who help with search and rescue, disaster relief and homeland security across the country, according to a statement from the national group. Authorities, including the FBI, declined to say whether there was any link between the crash and Dorsey & Whitney, which employs Demarest's wife, Katherine Demarest. She could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. FBI policy prevents the agency from commenting on an active investigation, including "confirming or denying reports surrounding this case other than to reiterate there is no indication this was a terrorist act," Feger-Pellessier said in a statement. She said the agency, which is leading the investigation, does not anticipate providing any updates for at least two weeks. There also was little new information about Doug Demarest's use of the airplane, which was housed at a Civil Air Patrol hangar at Anchorage's Merrill Field. The National Civil Air Patrol earlier noted the flight was unauthorized. Spokeswoman Julie DeBardelaben on Wednesday declined to say what exactly made it a breach of the organization's policy. Local Civil Air Patrol officials were alerted Tuesday morning after maintenance crews making a routine perimeter check found the hangar door open, airfield manager Paul Bowers said. The workers did not note whether the plane was missing, he said. The two buildings struck sustained only cosmetic damage, according to the FBI. The building that houses the Dorsey & Whitney reopened around noon Tuesday, said Linda Boggs, spokeswoman for both structures' owner. She said the second building remained closed Wednesday because repairs must be made to a damaged transformer that caused a power outage there. The law firm offices, however, will stay shut until Monday, according to Bryn Vaaler, an attorney and chief marketing officer based at the firm's Minneapolis headquarters. Vaaler has said no one was in the firm's sixth-floor offices at the time of the crash. He had no information about the couple's marital status. On Wednesday, Doug Demarest's former stepfather Charlie Ballentine remembered him as someone who enjoyed spending time in the wilderness. For a while, Demarest worked as a park ranger in Alaska. Ballentine said he had a falling out with Demarest in 2008 after alimony payments to Demarest's mother were reduced because of financial reasons. But he said he kept track of his former stepson secondhand, hearing "very nice things" about the way he treated his son. He said the last time he talked to Demarest, his former stepson mentioned he wanted to get his pilot's license. "And unfortunately, apparently he did," Ballentine said, his voice breaking periodically. Asked about his thoughts about the plane striking the building where Demarest's wife worked, Ballentine said, "He was always a very levelheaded guy." Demarest was a seasonal park ranger at the Western Arctic Parklands, a trio of Alaska national parks, each summer between 2008 and 2010, according to Park Service spokesman John Quinley. Earlier, he worked as a National Outdoor Leadership School instructor, teaching sea kayaking and other courses in Mexico, Canada and elsewhere in 2001 and 2002.

The Latest: FBI to investigate deadly Anchorage plane crash

The latest on a small plane crashing into a building in downtown Anchorage, Alaska (all times local):   11:30 a.m. Authorities say the FBI has joined the investigation into a deadly plane crash in downtown Anchorage, Alaska. Anchorage-based bureau spokeswoman Staci Feger-Pellessier declined to comment on why the agency was involved. But she says there's no reason to believe the crash was related to terrorism. The small plane belonging to the Civil Air Patrol clipped an office building before slamming into a commercial building Tuesday, killing at least one person on board. The Civil Air Patrol is a civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force that is made up of volunteers who help in search and rescue missions. Clint Johnson, Alaska region chief for the National Transportation Safety Board, says there were no sanctioned flights when the plane crashed at 6:18 a.m. Fire officials say no one was hurt on the ground, but it's unclear if anyone else was in the plane. ___ 9:10 a.m. Alaska Gov. Bill Walker says he was at the site of a small plane crash in downtown Anchorage to find out what was going on. The plane clipped the corner of the office building, where some state employees work, before slamming into a nearby commercial building Tuesday morning. Walker told an Associated Press reporter at the site shortly after the crash Tuesday that he was there to find out what was happening. At least one person on board was killed, but fire officials say there were no injuries on the ground. ___ 8:50 a.m. Federal authorities say the small plane that crashed into a building in downtown Anchorage, Alaska, belongs to the Civil Air Patrol. But Clint Johnson, Alaska region chief for the National Transportation Safety Board, says there were no sanctioned flights when the plane crashed early Tuesday. The Civil Air Patrol is a civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, made up of volunteers who help in search and rescue missions. Karen Bowen, a bookkeeper who answered the phone at the group's office, relayed instructions from the group's commander that the crash is under investigation. A message was left for the volunteer commander, who wasn't in the office. Johnson says there were blustery winds when the plane clipped the corner of an office building and then crashed into the side of an adjacent commercial building. But he says nothing is being ruled out as a cause. ___ 8 a.m. A witness who saw a small plane seconds before it slammed into a building in downtown Anchorage, Alaska, said the aircraft didn't sound like it was having engine trouble. Authorities say at least one person aboard died when the plane crashed into a commercial building Tuesday. Kent Haina, a 747 captain for UPS, said he was taking out his garbage and sorting through his recyclables when he heard the plane circle around him. He then watched as it went down at a shallow angle. He says the plane disappeared behind a building, then he heard a loud thud and saw a plume of black smoke. Haina says the wind was howling while he was outside and he thought to himself it wasn't good weather to be flying in. ___ 7:50 a.m. Authorities say at least one person aboard a small plane died when it crashed into a commercial building in downtown Anchorage, Alaska. Assistant Fire Chief Alex Boyd said there were no injuries on the ground. He says the plane clipped the corner of an office building before it crashed into the side of the commercial building beside it. The crash happened early Tuesday, before many businesses opened. Officials say it ignited a fire. Don Tallman of the Anchorage Fire Department said it didn't appear there was anyone inside the building, which received extensive damage. Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer says it wasn't clear why the plane hit the building. He didn't have information on the type of aircraft but said the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating. ___ 7 a.m. Authorities say a small plane crashed into a commercial building in downtown Anchorage, Alaska, setting it ablaze. Don Tallman of the Anchorage Fire Department says the crash was first reported around 6:19 a.m. and the fire was under control by 7 a.m. He didn't have any information about how many people were on the plane and whether there were any deaths or injuries. He said it didn't appear there was anyone inside the building. Police spokeswoman Anita Shell said the plane was fully engulfed. Tallman said crews were still searching the building and there was extensive damage to the facility.  

State, municipal leaders discuss pension system debts

KETCHIKAN (AP) — State and municipal leaders are in talks to change Alaska's multi-billion-dollar pension system. Local leaders attended a meeting last week in Juneau to discuss possible changes to the system that would assign a portion of the system's debt to municipalities, The Ketchikan Daily News reports (http://bit.ly/1NOZZWa). A change in national accounting standards requires the state to show the approximately $10 billion in debt on its books. The Alaska Department of Administration in September sent a memo notifying local governments that they would shoulder a portion of that burden. "By saying it's not (its) responsibility, the state is essentially saying it's somebody else's," said Scott Brandt-Erichsen, attorney for the borough, "and we don't agree." With the state's plan, the Ketchikan borough would have an additional $70 million in debt on its books. Anchorage alone would have another $750,000 million in debt. "If I'm a retiree, I'm going to start thinking there's something wrong here," Brandt-Erichsen said of the debt load on municipalities. "Communities don't have fiscal resources to make these payments." Ketchikan leaders argue that the change could change the boroughs bond debt rating and cost taxpayers in the short run. In a Monday letter to Department of Administration Commissioner Sheldon Fisher, Alaska Municipal League Execute Director Kathie Wasserman said communities would be unwilling to take on more costs and debt from the pension system and asked the Department of Administration to oppose legislation that would negatively impact municipalities. The Ketchikan Assembly will debate a plan for how to push the issue if the state continues down this course at its January policy session. The agenda statement for the policy session states that the borough will work with other communities to ensure the state does not pass liabilities to other employers.  

Beijing and Delhi: 2 cities and 2 ways of dealing with smog

NEW DELHI (AP) — Two cities. Two very polluted cities. And two very different ways of dealing with twin public health crises. When Beijing’s air was forecast to reach hazardous levels for three straight days earlier in December, the government issued a smog red alert. The result: Half the city’s cars were off the roads within hours, schools were closed and construction sites shut down. Less than three days later, pollution levels had dropped by 30 percent. When New Delhi’s winter air grew so bad that a high court warned that “it seems like we are living in a gas chamber,” the city’s top official declared that cars would be restricted starting Jan. 1, with odd and even license plates taking turns on the roads. But police officials quickly announced they hadn’t been consulted, and said they’d have trouble enforcing the rule. Plus, no one could fully explain how the already overstretched public transit system could absorb millions of additional commuters overnight. So, well, maybe the whole plan will be scrapped. “If there are too many problems, it will be stopped,” New Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said in a speech a couple days after his announcement. “We will not do anything which will cause inconvenience to the public.” Long famous for its toxic air, Beijing is struggling to lose that reputation, bowing to pressure from a growing middle class to keep pollution under control. Traffic is regularly restricted in the city, factories have been moved and the central government is anxious to ratchet down the country’s use of coal-burning power plants. And New Delhi, which by many measures now has far more polluted air than Beijing? So far, the environmental court — which has only quasi-legal powers — has ordered that no diesel cars be registered in the city for the next few weeks, and has discouraged the government from buying diesels for government fleets. Officials, meanwhile, have suggested everything from car-free days to planting more trees to dedicated bus lanes. It amounts to little more than vague promises, and is resulting in increasingly angry headlines. “As Delhi debates, Beijing declares war on pollution,” the Times of India sneered on its front page last week, when Beijing announced the red alert. “Delhi has started very late” in the fight against air pollution, said Vivek Chattopadhyaya, who studies air quality for the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment. “Many people in Delhi are not even aware that what they see in the morning is not fog, it’s smog. They don’t realize what kind of pollutants they are breathing.” Only in the past couple of years has air pollution become an issue at all in India, except for a tiny circle of scientists and environmental activists. Desperate to grow its economy as quickly as possible, environmental concerns are still largely ignored until the impact makes life uncomfortable for the wealthy and the powerful. In New Delhi, that time has come. In winter, when winds die down in northern India, a cloud of pollution now often clings to the capital. Blue skies are rarities. Respiratory illnesses have spiked, doctors say, and the stink makes it impossible to confuse pollution anymore with fog. “It is not safe at all,” said Ankur Jain, a 35-year-old father of two whose New Delhi neighborhood is regularly rated the most polluted in the city. A government employee, Jain is looking for work elsewhere, worried that pollution will cut short the lives of everyone in his family. Changing attitudes, experts say, may finally bring change. “In China, whenever you talk about PM2.5 (one of the most dangerous forms of airborne particulate matter), everybody knows what that is, it’s pollution. But once you raise the same questions in Delhi, it seems like not many people care about that. And yet, the level of pollution in Delhi is more than five times” higher than in Beijing, said Yann Boquillod, a longtime Beijing resident who co-founded Air Visual, a startup that crunches pollution data and weather information to predict air quality. “The population is going to demand higher standards for air quality,” said Boquillod, who is French, adding that “we are not there yet for Delhi. Delhi has so few monitoring stations. They have a lot of work to be done in the near term.” Like New Delhi, Beijing long ignored its own pollution crisis. It only instituted a four-tier air-quality system in 2013, largely in response to increasing pressure from the country’s growing middle class, and about the same time the government began posting reliable air quality numbers. Before that, officials were reluctant to even discuss the issue, and were furious when the U.S. Embassy in Beijing began independently posting its own air quality readings. Fixing the problem, though, is complicated. The pollution in New Delhi comes from multiple sources across northern India — vehicles, factories in neighboring Uttar Pradesh and Haryana states, farmers burning their fields in Punjab, dirt blown in from the Rajasthan deserts. Officials from different states have already started fighting about where the responsibilities lie, and who will have to pay to clean things up. In China, an authoritarian system makes policy changes much more straightforward than in India, where a chaotic and widely corrupt government makes it easier for polluters to avoid regulations. “China has made a very serious and concerted effort to fight air pollution in the past few years,” said Lauri Myllyvitra, Greenpeace’s global campaigner on coal. She said Beijing’s success came when it realized the problem had to be addressed regionally, not just in the city. “Our greatest hope is that India will not waste a decade trying to address a regional problem locally ... but will move much faster to put in place regional action plans for cleaner energy sources and fuels, as well as meaningful emission standards and enforcement.” In Beijing, families wrestle with a pessimism that comes from years of breathing dirty air, and hope that the problem is finally being addressed. In some ways, they have learned to change how they live: They check their smartphones for air quality updates, they buy air purifiers, they wear masks, they avoid going outdoors when things get really bad. Li Ming, a 35-year-old stay-at-home father, said he welcomed Beijing’s red alert, despite the inconveniences of car restrictions and school closings. “You could tell, just on the second day, you could feel that the air quality was improving,” he said. “I think the future will be better, because the control in Beijing is getting more and more strict.” Associated Press journalists Aritz Parra and Chris Bodeen in Beijing and Rishabh R. Jain in New Delhi contributed to this report.

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