Nation roundup for March 10


Calif. emissions law might raise gas prices

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California’s greenhouse gas reduction law already has shaken up the state’s industrial sector, costing it more than $1.5 billion in pollution permit fees.

It’s now poised to hit the pocketbooks of everyday Californians.

Starting next year, the law will force fuel distributors into the same cap-and-trade marketplace as utilities and major manufacturers. The oil industry says it will lead to price increases of at least 12 cents a gallon immediately, while state regulators say any price spikes could vary widely, from barely noticeable to double-digits.

Anticipating angst at the pump, a leading state lawmaker is raising concerns about the uncertainty of the law’s impact on prices for consumer fuels, including gasoline, natural gas, propane and heating oil. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, says the state should scrap the plan to put fuel producers under the cap-and-trade provision of the law and instead institute a 15 cent-per-gallon “carbon tax.”

Cap-and-trade sets a limit, or cap, on emissions of heat-trapping gases and requires companies to pay for each ton of pollution they emit, the price of which is determined in an allowance auction. Polluters that cut emissions below the cap can sell their leftover pollution permits, called allowances, to companies that need extra.

The program is a central part of AB32, the greenhouse gas reduction law that passed the Legislature and was signed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, in 2006. But it is just one of several provisions of the law — such as requiring lower-carbon fuels — meant to prompt Californians to change their transportation and energy consumption habits as the state seeks to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases to 1990 levels by 2020.

The California Air Resources Board, which designed and implemented cap-and-trade, differs with Steinberg’s assessment and projects no noticeable increase in gas costs after Jan. 1. But the board’s own economic analysis of AB32 from 2010 shows that diesel prices could rise from 3 percent to 23 percent, with gasoline prices rising 5 percent to 32 percent, depending on market factors associated with the global warming law’s programs.

Record numbers in the US riding public transit

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Americans are boarding public buses, trains and subways in greater numbers than any time since the suburbs began booming.

Nearly 10.7 billion trips in 2013, to be precise — the highest total since 1956, according to ridership data reported by transit systems nationally and released today by the American Public Transportation Association.

Transit ridership has now fully recovered from a dip caused by the Great Recession. With services restored following economy-driven cutbacks, ridership numbers appear set to continue what had been a steady increase.

“People are making a fundamental shift to having options” aside from a car in how they get around, said Michael Melaniphy, president and CEO of the public transportation association. “This is a long-term trend. This isn’t just a blip.”

Expanding bus and train networks help spur the growth.

Ridership on Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority light-rail trains increased six percent over 2012, as the public took advantage of an expanded network of lines. Overall, LA Metro gained nine million trips to reach 478 million in 2013, the transportation association said. Among the other transit systems in California with record ridership was the Caltrain commuter rail service that connects San Francisco with Silicon Valley.

Houston and Phoenix, two cities which have been more notable for their sprawl than public transportation offerings, had large ridership gains. So did Seattle, Miami, Denver and San Diego. The New York area’s behemoth transit network saw the greatest gain, accounting for one in three trips nationally.

Transit advocates argue that the public increasingly values the ability to get around without a car. They offer as evidence the nation’s urban shift and the movement to concentrate new development around transit hubs.

“People want to work and live along transit lines,” Melaniphy said. “Businesses, universities and housing are all moving along those corridors.”

‘300’ rules box office with $45.1M debut

NEW YORK (AP) — The shirtless warriors of the “300” sequel “Rise of an Empire” ravaged the post-Oscars box-office weekend with a domestic debut of $45.1 million but an even bigger international haul of $87.8 million.

Seven years after the original “300” became an unlikely, ultra-stylish, blood-soaked sensation, Warner Bros.’ 3-D follow-up showed considerable might at the box office. While “300: Rise of an Empire” didn’t come close the North American debut of Zack Snyder’s 2007 original ($70.9 million and without the benefit of 3-D ticket prices), it performed like a blockbuster overseas.

“Rise of an Empire,” which with flexed torsos and R-rated blood further chronicles the ancient battles of the Greeks and Persians, led a busy box-office weekend that also saw an Academy Awards bump for “12 Years a Slave” and one of the highest per-screen averages ever for Wes Anderson’s European caper “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

Though “300: Rise of an Empire” is excessively macho, Eva Green — the film’s fiercest presence — may have drawn females for what was always going to be a male-centric release. Whereas the female audience for the first “300” was only 29 percent, it was 38 percent for “Rise of an Empire.”

“Talk about female empowerment,” said Jeff Goldstein, head of domestic distribution for Warner Bros., said of the “Casino Royale” actress.

Noting the popularity of 3-D and IMAX screenings for the movie, Goldstein credited the visual panache of producer Snyder (Noam Murro took over directing), who drew directly from Frank Miller’s graphic novels: “He brings a lot to the screen that mesmerizes you.”

Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for box-office tracker Rentrak, said the “300” franchise “translates to virtually every culture. Every country can appreciate the visuals of these movies.”

The week’s other new wide release, 20th Century Fox’s animated “Mr. Peabody &Sherman,” opened in second with $32.5 million. Though the performance was better than some expected, it’s a relatively low total for a film that cost about $140 million to make.

The film is based on the cartoon about a time-traveling boy and his brilliant dog from “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.” Some of the family film market was likely taken by Warner Bros.’ hit “The Lego Movie,” which added $11 million in its fifth weekend.

The Liam Neeson thriller “Non-Stop” slid to third place with $15.4 million in the Universal release’s second weekend after previously topping the box office.

In limited release, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” made an astounding average of $200,000 on four screens in New York and Los Angeles. Fox Searchlight will expand the film by 65 to 75 theaters next week.

The specialty studio also celebrated the best picture Oscar win for “12 Years a Slave” with a notable bump of $2.2 million, even though it was released on DVD and video-on-demand Tuesday. That was up 123 percent on the prior weekend for the film, which first opened in November. Its cumulative total is $53 million.

 

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