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Monday
Prices Proposed for Carbon Dioxide from Cars Drivers in the eastern United States may soon start paying for the pollution made by their motor vehicles.

Nine eastern states and Washington, D.C. are launching a system of pricing the carbon dioxide produced from burning gasoline and diesel fuel.

Many scientists believe that carbon dioxide and other gases released by vehicles and factories are to blame for a general warming of our planet.

Since Donald Trump became president, the federal government has eased back from efforts meant to fight climate change. But the proposal to set a price on vehicle emissions is an example of how states and cities are taking action themselves.

The plan is an idea of the Transportation and Climate Initiative, or TCI. It would likely require fuel suppliers to pay for each ton of carbon dioxide that their products produce. Drivers would likely then pay more for the fuel they buy.

In a statement, TCI said money raised by the program would be used to improve transportation systems and reduce pollution from cars, trucks and buses.

The program could raise $1.5 billion to $6 billion each year, by one estimate.

Fatima Ahmad is with the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a not-for-profit group based in Washington, D.C. She said a lot can be done to modernize transportation, improve public transit and increase electric vehicles.

Reducing traffic problems is also important to lawmakers in Washington, she noted.

These investments could create an estimated 91,000 to 125,000 new jobs.

Transportation is the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Some electrical power companies have cut production of carbon dioxide by moving from coal to natural gas and renewable energy, like wind or energy from the sun. But emissions from the transportation industry have been growing since 2012.

Following California

Up to now, California has been the only state to put a price on carbon emissions from transportation fuels. The state included gas and diesel in its carbon-pricing program, beginning in 2015. That program also controls carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from electrical power stations and industry.

For transportation fuels, suppliers buy carbon permits for every ton of fuel. This adds a little to fuel costs for drivers. At the current price of about $15 per ton, the program adds about half a dollar, 49 cents, to the cost of one liter of gasoline.

Stanley Young is communications director at the California Air Resources Board, which operates the program. He said the added cost is less than the difference between prices at fuel stations throughout the city.

California has raised more than $9 billion from permit sales since the program began in 2012.

That money has paid for renewable energy, mass transit, low-emissions vehicles and other investments.

To help ease costs on poor people, one-third of the money raised is directed at improving transit for poor communities.

However, California's program has not stopped vehicle carbon dioxide emissions from rising. After decreases between 2007 and 2013, greenhouse gases from vehicles have increased every year.

The state government is studying the effects of car sharing programs and self-driving cars on reducing emissions. Young said officials are also exploring ways that people can live closer to work or transit.

Hard to change

Transportation is one of the hardest sources of greenhouse gases to battle, experts say.

Unlike at power stations, transportation emissions come from millions of vehicles. And, the choices their owners make have a huge effect on how much carbon dioxide they produce.

There are generally three ways to reduce vehicle emissions, says David Bookbinder: make them more efficient, reduce the amount of carbon dioxide they produce for each unit of energy, or raise the price of fuel.

Bookbinder is from the Niskanen Center, a research and policy center in Washington.

"It's never popular to raise the price [of fuel]," he noted. Even so, he said, you have to raise the price of gasoline by a lot before it has any real effect on people’s use.

France's "yellow vest" protests are one extreme reaction to raising fuel prices. And they demonstrate another risk: policies that make gas pricier can have the biggest effect on the people who can least pay for it.

One way to reduce the effect is by returning to drivers the money raised by pricing carbon. That is the method proposed by a group of Republican Party politicians. Investing in low-cost public transit is another, Bookbinder says.

Members of the Transportation and Climate Initiative will each spend a year designing their programs. The members include Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

I’m Alice Bryant.
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Tuesday
Students Walk Out to Hold Climate Protests Thousands of Belgian students stayed away from school the past two Thursdays to join protests in Brussels.

The protesters have been demanding action to fight climate change.

The first demonstration took place on January 10. Organizers have announced plans to keep holding demonstrations every Thursday. Many students have promised to skip classes and join the protesters.

About 3,000 Belgian students attended the first protest, called Youth for Climate, the Brussels Times reported. More than 10,000 students joined the second demonstration, held on January 17. The number included young people from both the country’s Flemish-speaking north and French-speaking south.

That day, protesters faced cold and wet weather conditions in Brussels. They carried signs with messages like “School strike 4 Climate” and “Skipping school? No. We fight for our future.” The demonstrations were peaceful, with no incidents reported.

More than 75,000 people took to the streets of Brussels last month in Belgium’s largest-ever climate march. But the latest protests were held especially for school-aged students who chose to miss class.

The student protesters have demanded stronger government environment policies relating to climate change.

Before the first protest, school officials warned students that missing school – even to attend a demonstration – violated school and government policies.

But before the second protest, many schools decided to give students permission to take part, the Brussels Times reported. The newspaper said students would be asked to prove their presence by showing a picture of themselves at the protest.

Patrick Lancksweerdt is the director of one school. He told De Standaard newspaper that “education has to turn youngsters into mature citizens. By their actions, they proved that they are.”

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) has expressed support for the student marches. The EEB is a collection of environmental activist groups across Europe. It has urged European leaders to support action to reduce dependence on coal, oil and natural gas.

The EEB says the idea for “school strike” movements centered on the Earth’s environment came from Swedish student activist Greta Thunberg. She received attention for skipping school one day a week so that she could demonstrate in front of Sweden’s parliament building.

The movement started in Sweden seems to be growing. On January 18, thousands of students in Germany and Switzerland chose to skip class to press for more action against climate change.

I’m Bryan Lynn.
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Wednesday
Vietnam Sees Trade Deals as Way to Build Economy Vietnam is on a path this year to approve its biggest trade expansion since the country joined the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The country’s National Assembly in Hanoi approved the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans Pacific Partnership in December. The trade deal became effective on January 14.

The Pacific trade deal would open the markets of Japan and Canada to Vietnam’s products. In addition, the deal will permit Vietnamese to enter 10 countries easily for work-related business.

Vietnam also is seeking to reach a trade agreement with the European Union soon. The two trade agreements together would sharply reduce trade barriers with countries that account for 45 percent of the world’s economy.

Lawmakers of other countries in the Pacific partnership are in the process of approving the deal. Six countries have already approved it meaning that it is likely to legally go into effect.

Vietnam hopes that the EU approves this year the free trade deal which the two sides negotiated in 2015.

Experts say that the two major trade deals will speed growth of the country’s growing middle class. They also help Vietnam compete with China as a place where international companies want to build factories.

Frederick Burke is with the international law group Baker McKenzie in Ho Chi Minh City. He said, “Vietnam will enjoy a comparatively lower duty rate in some export markets where it competes.”

Burke added that foreign direct investment already has increased as much as it did when Vietnam joined the WTO. When foreign companies build factories and gain interest in a country’s companies, it is called foreign direct investment.

Vietnam hopes for trade gains

Vietnam may be one of the nations that gain the most from the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans Pacific Partnership. That is because exports are such an important part of the country’s growth. Exports are estimated to have reached $200 billion in 2017. Other countries in the Pacific deal are expected to have trade deficits with Vietnam.

Since 1986, Vietnam has sought foreign direct investment in factories that make clothing and electronic devices. It entered the WTO in 2007.

Adam McCarty is chief economist with Mekong Economics in Hanoi. He said, with the new agreement, low-cost manufactured goods like shoes will be less costly to export to countries like Australia.

European and Pacific countries hope trade deals with Vietnam will let them sell products to that country’s growing middle class. The Boston Consulting Group predicts that will mean more than 30 million people by next year.

However, as a member of the trade partnership, Vietnam must permit independent labor unions. Vietnam also must have rules so that companies from partnership countries can make bids for business. And Vietnam will have to protect partners’ intellectual property rights.

McCarty said if Vietnam closely observes the Pacific trade agreement it will further show that it is different from China. Vietnam already stands out for its lower labor costs.

Trung Nguyen heads international relations at Ho Chi Minh University of Social Sciences and Humanities. He said Vietnam wants to follow the deal’s rules. “They want (to) get some new momentum for Vietnam’s economy, and TPP is one of the solutions,” he said.

I’m Mario Ritter Jr.
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Thursday
Living in DC During the Government Shutdown No city experiences a government shutdown like Washington, DC.

In addition to the economic effect, a suspension of government operations affects Washington on a cultural and recreational level. It influences almost everyone, from trash collectors to young parents and even those hoping to get married.

The United States Congress and President Donald Trump have not been able to reach agreement on a spending plan. On December 22, about one-fourth of federal agencies had no money left and were forced to close.

Trump wants to Congress to approve $5 billion to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. He says this would help strengthen national security. Democratic Party leaders oppose his spending request and the idea of a border wall.

The local District of Columbia (DC) government has continued operations without a federal budget in place as Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser had promised.

The economic situation is not good. Some studies estimate that the federal government directly employs more than 364,000 people in and around Washington, DC. This includes northern Virginia and southern Maryland. The district alone contains more than 102,000 jobs in government agencies that have no money to finance operations.

Deputy City Administrator Kevin Donahue compared the shutdown to the main factory closing in a small industrial town. He noted that the closure has affected service industries like restaurants, food trucks and taxis.

“What keeps us up at night is not the work we know we have to do in weeks one and two,” Donahue said. It is the unpredictable effects of weeks four and five and onward, he said, with the possibility for mass restaurant closures or federal workers missing payments on housing or car loans.

Public health concerns

Most immediately, the shutdown created a public health problem. The U.S. National Park Service (NPS) oversees many parts of DC, from the world famous National Mall to green spaces like Dupont Circle and even neighborhood parks.

Washington waste collection crews now empty waste containers at the city’s more than 120 separate NPS sites -- three times a day in the case of the containers at the National Mall. That service costs at least $54,000 a week.

Donahue said there is an unofficial agreement dating back to earlier shutdowns that the local government will be repaid when the federal government reopens.

The park service recently announced it would use other money to restart its own trash collection at some of the Washington sites.

For years, Washington has had a tortured relationship with the federal government, which can change or block any local law. Now, city officials seemingly have the chance to note the irony of the shutdown. They often claim they are treated by Congress as if they are unable to govern the city; now they are taking over and covering for the central government.

“When the federal government shuts down, we step up,” Bowser said during a January 4 press conference.

Effect on parents and children

The shutdown also affects the 700,000 people who call Washington, DC home. The Smithsonian Institution’s many museums, including the National Zoo, closed their doors about a week into the shutdown. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has severely cut back its hours of operation.

On a recent rainy weekend, parents and children gathered outside the Bloombars cultural center in Washington’s Columbia Heights neighborhood. They formed a line, stretching halfway up the street, for the usual Saturday morning children’s drumming class. The crowd was three times larger than the normal size.

The reason: parents searching for something to occupy their children in a city where more than 10 free museums and the zoo have been closed.

“It happens every time,” laughed BloomBars founder John Chambers, who recalls a similar increase during the 2013 shutdown, which lasted 16 days.

The district is filled with shutdown specials -- offering federal employees everything from food and drinks to live theater and medical marijuana at low or no cost to them.

Another effect of the shutdown is the closure of the DC office that registers marriages.

Bowser told The Associated Press that even she was surprised to learn that people could not get marriage licenses because Congress pays for the local court system.

Bowser quickly reached out to allies on the Council of the District of Columbia to pass emergency legislation called the Let Our Vows Endure (LOVE) act. The measure gives her administration the right to approve marriage licenses.

At a recent event to sign the act into law, Bowser said, “Just so my team knows, we’re probably going to want to keep that power.”

Nobody laughed and she did not seem to be joking.

I’m George Grow. And I'm Anna Mateo.
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Friday
Thousands of Teachers Strike in Los Angeles Tens of thousands of teachers went on strike Monday in Los Angeles, California.

The teachers acted after contract negotiations failed.

"Students, we are striking for you," said teachers union President Alex Caputo-Pearl. He spoke to a cheering crowd of teachers marching in the rain.

Los Angeles is the second-largest school district in the United States.

Members of United Teachers Los Angeles voted last year to call a strike if the union and school district failed to reach an agreement. The teachers want higher wages and smaller class sizes.

Months of negotiations between the two sides ended without a deal. It follows teacher strikes in other states.

Substitutes working for striking teachers

The union has 35,000 members. Schools are open in the Los Angeles Unified School District, which serves 640,000 students.

The school district has hired hundreds of substitute teachers to work during the strike. The union calls that irresponsible and has called on parents to consider keeping students home or join marchers.

The district argues that the union's demands could lead to financial ruin. The school system says it expects a $500-million deficit this budget year. Billions of dollars are required for payments and health care for retired teachers.

Negotiations were suspended in December, and re-started this month, but little progress was evident in the contract dispute. The union rejected a district offer Friday. It proposed to add almost 1,200 teachers, guidance professionals, health care workers and librarians and reduce class size by two students.

The offer also included a proposed six percent pay raise over the first two years of a three-year contract. The teachers’ union wanted a 6.5 percent increase at the start of a two-year deal. The union also wants considerably smaller classes, now often filled by more than 30 students. The union is demanding more nurses, librarians and counselors to "fully staff" schools.

The 'Red4Ed' movement

Teachers are hoping to build on the "Red4Ed" movement that began last year in West Virginia and moved to five other states. It spread from conservative states with "right to work" laws, which limit the ability to strike, to the more liberal West Coast, with strong unions.

Such actions energized Los Angeles teachers, Caputo-Pearl said before the strike.

The labor union argues that the school district has $1.8 billion that could be used to finance the pay and staffing increases. The district said that money is meant for retiree benefits and other costs.

School district Superintendent Austin Beutner asked Friday for California Governor Gavin Newsom to get involved to try to avoid a strike.

The union says Beutner, an investment banker and former Los Angeles deputy mayor, and school board members are trying to privatize the district.

The union says Beutner and the school board support calls for school closures. It says they are turning public schools into charter schools. Charters are privately operated public schools that compete for students and financial support.

Beutner has said his plan to reorganize the school district would improve services to students and families. He and his supporters on the board want to create an education system with public and charter schools under the same leadership.

I’m Caty Weaver.
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