Planes to nowhere? Congress plans to increase small-town airline subsidies

The Essential Air Service spends as much as thousands per passenger in remote areas. Critics say the program is wasteful and was to be phased out after a period of adjustment to ’70s deregulation.

By Alexander C. Hart
September 19, 2009
Reporting from Washington

Ely is a Nevada mining town with a population of 4,000. Located about a four-hour drive north of Las Vegas, it is perhaps most famous as the birthplace of former First Lady Pat Nixon.

Ely also is a beneficiary of Essential Air Service, a federal program established in the 1970s after airline deregulation to prevent small communities from losing access to air travel. But opponents call the program wasteful spending, noting that much of the money provides service to areas with fewer than 30 passengers a day.

This week, the Senate passed a transportation bill that includes a $38-million funding increase for the program, which now stands to receive $175 million.

In 2008, according to Senate Appropriations Committee data, Great Lakes Airlines received a subsidy of about $1.8 million for the 414 passengers it flew to and from Ely — about $4,500 per person.

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Minerals Management Service ‘royalty in kind’ program to end

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says the program, which let energy companies pay in oil or gas for drilling on federal land, had clearly not been working. Allegations of sex and drug use didn’t help.

By Jim Tankersley and Alexander C. Hart
September 17, 2009
Reporting from Washington

The Interior Department is ending a controversial program that was at the center of a sex and drug scandal in the federal Minerals Management Service, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Wednesday.

Testifying before the House Natural Resources Committee, Salazar said that he would phase out the program, which allows energy companies drilling on federal lands to pay royalties in the form of oil or gas instead of cash.

The program, known as “royalty in kind,” has been rocked by scandal, and auditors have questioned its effectiveness. The Interior Department inspector general issued a report last year describing a “a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity” over a five-year period at the Denver-based office of the Minerals Management Service, which deals with royalty-in-kind payments.

Allegations included cocaine use and sex with industry contacts.

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Senate to consider limits on carbon dioxide emissions

Senate to consider limits on carbon dioxide emissions

Lawmakers are looking to the EU's Emissions Trading System for guidance on managing permit price volatility as they consider the nation's first-ever bill limiting the emissions.

By Alexander Hart

10:32 AM PDT, September 15, 2009

Reporting from Washington

While healthcare dominates the headlines, the Senate is preparing to consider a bill that could dramatically reshape the economy by setting the nation's first-ever limits on carbon dioxide emissions.

But to assess the potential effect at home, lawmakers will be looking abroad in a hearing today to the European Union, which began a troubled carbon-trading program in 2005.

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will hear testimony today and Thursday about the economic effects of limiting carbon dioxide emissions. In doing so, the senators will be bombarded with information and lessons from the EU's Emissions Trading System.

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U.S. rejects Iran’s proposal for talks

U.S. rejects Iran's proposal for talks

The State Department says the Iranian offer given to Western diplomats doesn't address the main issue, Tehran's nuclear program.

By Paul Richter

9:27 PM CDT, September 10, 2009

Reporting from Washington

The State Department rejected Iran's latest proposal for international talks Thursday in another sign of trouble for the Obama administration's top-priority effort to engage Tehran in nuclear negotiations.

A five-page Iranian proposal distributed to foreign diplomats Wednesday "was not really responsive to our greatest concernwhich is obviously Iran's nuclear program," said P.J. Crowley, the senior State Department spokesman.

At the same time, Crowley said, "We remain willing to engage Iran."

The administration faces an approaching deadline on whether to pursue a diplomatic opening with Iran, which was one of President Obama's trademark foreign policy ideas during his presidential campaign.

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