TIME arctic oil exploration

Polar Bears and Walruses Are Spoiling Shell’s Arctic Drilling Plans

A Greenpeace activist covers the logo of
MICHAL CIZEK—AFP/Getty Images A Greenpeace activist covers the logo of the Shell oil company to protest Shell's Arctic oil drilling project in the north of Alaska.

Obama administration cites wildlife protections

Royal Dutch Shell’s Arctic oil exploration plans have been dealt a major blow after the Obama administration cited wildlife protections that prevent the company from drilling two wells into the Chukchi Sea this summer.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service issued a letter spelling out details of a 2013 regulation, highlighting that companies could not place two drilling rigs within 15 miles of each other, Reuters reported. This was put in place to protect animals in the area — walruses, polar bears, and other mammals — that are sensitive to the sound of drilling activity. Walruses, for example, are said to plunge into the sea during drilling, endangering the population.

The letter forces Shell to reevaluate its intention of using two drills off Alaska, which are currently about nine miles apart. The company had plans to invest $1 billion in its Arctic project this year, adding to the $6 billion the company has already spent over the past eight years. Shell told Fuel Fix that the company intends to move ahead with its plan: “We are evaluating the letter of authorization issued today and will continue to pursue the 2015 program,” said Shell spokesman Curtis Smith. “That includes drilling in the Chukchi Sea once open water permits.”

Environmentalists will count this as a small win in their battle to shelf the drilling project. “We think the Department of the Interior needs to rescind its approval because it was predicated on this double-drilling (scenario),” Earthjustice staff attorney Erik Grafe said to Fuel Fix.

TIME Accident

Nine Dead in Plane Crash on Alaska Cliff

Alaska-Missing Plane
Taylor Balkram—AP The Holland America Line cruise ship Westerdam sits in dock in Ketchikan, Alaska, on June 25, 2015

The conditions of those on board weren't immediately known

(ANCHORAGE, Alaska) — All nine people aboard a sightseeing plane died in crash Thursday in southeast Alaska, authorities said, but stormy weather was preventing the immediate recovery of the bodies.

“We have nine fatalities,” said Clint Johnson, head of the National Transportation Safety Board’s Alaska office.

Rain and wind forced an end to recovery efforts Thursday night in the rugged terrain about 20 miles northeast of Ketchikan. Officials would mount a recovery attempt again on Friday, he said.

There was no immediate indication of why the DeHavilland DHC-3 Otter turboprop crashed. It was found Thursday against the granite rock face of a cliff, 800 feet above Ella Lake.

Johnson said it was too soon to know circumstances of the crash, including whether the plane flew into the cliff.

The NTSB was assembling a high-level team to investigate the crash, including three members from Alaska and at least two people from Washington, D.C.

“The initial rescue crew that went in had a very tough time because of the terrain,” Johnson said. “It’s a very steep, mountainous area, and weather conditions caused them to stand down.’

Coast Guard Petty Officer Lauren Steenson said the agency received a report around 2:15 p.m. that the plane was overdue. Troopers said an emergency locator transmitter activated in the Misty Fjords National Monument, and a helicopter pilot spotted the downed aircraft above Ella Lake, about 800 miles southeast of Anchorage.

Promech Air, an airline based in Ketchikan, operated the shore excursion sold through Holland America Line, the cruise ship company said in a statement. The eight passengers were guests on the Westerdam, which is on a seven-day cruise that departed Seattle on Saturday.

“We are incredibly distressed by this situation, and our thoughts and prayers are with those onboard the plane and their families,” the statement said. “Holland America Line is extending its full support to traveling companions of the guests involved.”

Promech said that the crash happened about 11:20 a.m., and the plane was one of five Otter aircraft in its fleet.

“There is nothing I can say that can alleviate the pain and overwhelming sense of loss that we and the loved ones of those affected are feeling,” Marcus Sessoms, president of Promech Air, said in a statement. “At this moment, all of us share the pain and anguish of this terrible event. Our thoughts and our prayers go out to everyone touched by this tragedy.”

The Ketchikan Daily News reported the Westerdam had been scheduled to leave the city at 1 p.m., but it remained in port Thursday evening.

The airline’s website advertises tours of the 2-million-acre Misty Fjord National Monument in its float planes.

“Towering granite cliffs, 1,000-foot waterfalls, lush and remote valleys and serene crystalline lakes make up this incredible landscape,” it says.

___

Associated Press writer Kathy McCarthy in Seattle contributed to this report.

TIME animals

Watch this Alaskan Black Bear Fall Off a Porch After Being Scared by a Pet Cat

Never bring a bear to a catfight

The last thing this black bear expected while innocently sniffing around a front porch in Eagle River, Alaska, was a not-so-scaredy cat leaping at him from the other side of a glass door.

As is evident from the video taken by the home (and cat) owner Darliss Elliot, the shock from Savannah cat Nani’s sudden predatory lunge was unbearable, and caused the bear to lose his bearings and fall off the porch while rapidly backtracking.

Elliot told local broadcaster KTUU that they saw the bear come up the front driveway and amble around the back, but Nani saw it only after it came onto the back porch. The appearance of the bear, a rather common occurrence in Alaska, didn’t surprise Elliot as much as the 2-year-old feline’s behavior did.

“She’s really such a fraidy cat most of the time, I don’t know what got into her,” Elliot said. “She probably wouldn’t have lunged if we weren’t standing right behind her.”

Nani’s act of bravery may not have been enough to send the wild animal into hibernation, but apparently he hasn’t showed his face around the house since.

TIME Environment

Two Tundra Wildfires Burn in Alaska

Alaska Wildfire
Matt Snyder—Alaska Division of Forestry/AP Smoke rises from the Bogus Creek Fire, one of two fires burning in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Alaska on June 7, 2015.

The fires are located about 50 miles from the town of Bethel

Alaskan fire crews are fighting two tundra fires sparked by lightning in the southwest of the state, which has experienced a warm winter with little snow, according to AP.

By Monday the fires had covered 63 square miles of the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, the AP report said, but weekend rain helped quell the spread. The fires are burning in a biologically diverse area, home to nesting waterfowl and a variety of plant species.

“There’s lots of vegetation,” Fish and Wildlife Service fire ecologist Lisa Saperstein said. “And where you have vegetation, it’s fuel.”

Tundra fires are sometimes allowed to burn out on their own if they don’t threaten infrastructure. In this case, fire information spokesman Tim Mowry said, crews weren’t sent to fight one of the fires until it grew to almost 20 square miles in size. As of Monday, the fires remained about 50 miles away from the town of Bethel, AP reported.

Saperstein said that tundra fires are rarer than forest fires in southwest Alaska, but do still occur.

Areas with less snow have less moisture in the ground, putting them at greater risk of fire. A 2013 report by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service states that Alaska may see a growth in tundra fires in the coming century due to climate change.

MONEY Travel

These Are the Airlines With the Most Passenger Complaints

customers waiting in line at airport check-in counter
Patti McConville—Alamy

Here are the airlines with the most complaints per 100,000 passengers.

If you feel like airline service is slipping, that’s because it is. In fact, it has slipped back to levels not seen since the recession, according to a new “Airline Quality Rating” report out this week. The rating considers four factors most important to travelers: on-time performance, involuntary bumping, mishandled baggage and complaints. Only Virgin America, Alaska and Hawaiian upped their game last year, according to the study, while all other major airlines offered worse service.

University professors Brent Bowen (Embry-Riddle) and Dean Headley (Wichita State) have conducted the research using Department of Transportation data for 25 years, and found that performance levels have sunk back to where they were in 2009, during the Great Recession.

“The Airline Quality Rating industry score for 2014 shows an industry that declined in overall performance quality over the previous year. As an industry, performance in 2014 was worse than the previous four years,” the authors say. “Of the 11,364 complaints registered with DOT regarding all U.S. domestic carriers, 62.7% were for either flight problems, customer service problems, or baggage problems.” Overall, complaints skyrocketed 22% in 2014.

So which airline attracted the most complaints? To adjust for airline size, the authors published a rate of complaints per 100,000 passengers. The industry average was 1.38 for 2014. At the “top” of the list is Frontier and United. Alaska and Southwest attracted the fewest complaints. These stats aren’t a fluke: Alaska also had the fewest complaints per 100,000 in 2013, while Frontier and United had the most last year, too.

The Most Complaints per 100,000 Passengers

  1. Frontier 3.91
  2. United 2.71
  3. American 2.12
  4. Envoy 1.59
  5. JetBlue 1.17
  6. Virgin America 1.14
  7. ExpressJet 1.01
  8. Hawaiian 0.89
  9. SkyWest 0.84
  10. Delta 0.72
  11. Southwest 0.53
  12. Alaska 0.42

Frontier didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

“I’m not surprised by the latest results,” said consumer travel advocate Chris Elliot, who operates Elliot.org. “Airline passengers are fond of referring to the industry’s customer service record as a race to the bottom. These numbers leave little doubt that the race is far from over.”

The results also reveal a backslide from improvements that airlines had made since the recession, Elliot said.

“These numbers suggest that the uptick in customer service was only temporary,” Elliot said. “The study is a big disappointment, both for airline passengers, and also for me personally. I had really hoped the industry had begun to turn a corner.”

Airline tickets can come with big price tags, which can be especially rage-inducing if you’re bumped or experience customer service issues. You can eliminate some of the cost by using airline rewards credit cards to earn free flights, free checked bags and even upgrades (here are a few of the best airline miles credit cards on the market). But be sure you don’t spend your way into debt just to score a freebie — rewards cards are best used by cardholders who pay their balances in full every month.

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

MONEY Taxes

Want to Pay Lower Taxes? Here’s Where You Should Move

Downtown, Juneau, Alaska
Jochen Tack—Alamy Juneau, Alaska

Leave New York for Alaska.

If you want to keep a bigger portion of your paycheck next year, pick up and head west. According to a new report from WalletHub, the states with the lowest tax burdens on the middle class include Alaska, Montana, and Wyoming. The states with the heaviest tax burdens on the middle class: New York, Illinois, Arkansas, Hawaii, and Maryland.

In fact, you’ll pay the fewest taxes in Alaska whether you’re rich, poor, or somewhere in the middle. Altogether, low earners pay an average of 5.4% of their income in total taxes (including sales taxes, property taxes, and income taxes), middle earners pay an average of 4.5%, and high earners pay an average of just 3.4%.

Compare that to New York state, where households earning $50,000 pay an average of 12.4% of income in taxes. WalletHub found that New York state was the worst state for middle and high earners and the eighth worst for low earners.

Here are the full rankings.

The five states where middle earners (households making $50,000) pay the least:

  1. Alaska
  2. Delaware
  3. Nevada
  4. Montana
  5. Wyoming

The five states where middle earners (households making $50,000) pay the most:

  1. New York
  2. Illinois
  3. Arkansas
  4. Hawaii
  5. Maryland

The five states where high earners (households making $150,000) pay the least:

  1. Alaska
  2. Wyoming
  3. Nevada
  4. Tennessee
  5. South Dakota

The five states where high earners (households making $150,000) pay the most:

  1. New York
  2. Connecticut
  3. Maryland
  4. New Jersey
  5. Minnesota

The five states where low-income earners (households making $25,000) pay the least:

  1. Alaska
  2. Delaware
  3. Montana
  4. Nevada
  5. South Carolina

The five states where low-income earners (households making $25,000) pay the most:

  1. Washington
  2. Hawaii
  3. Illinois
  4. Arizona
  5. Ohio

Read the full WalletHub report here.

For answers to your tax questions, check out MONEY’s 2015 Tax Guide:
11 Smart Ways to Use Your Tax Refund
Don’t Make These 8 Classic Tax Filing Fails
Why the IRS Probably Won’t Audit Your Return This Year

TIME cities

Know Right Now: Washington, D.C. Legalizes Pot

Four other states have already legalized recreational marijuana

Recreational marijuana use and adult possession (up to two ounces) became legal in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, but there’s still no way to legally buy the drug. Watch today’s Know Right Now to find out more.

TIME Drugs

Marijuana Is Now Officially Legal in Alaska

Alaska Marijuana
Mark Thiessen--AP Alaska Cannabis Club CEO Charlo Greene prepares to roll a joint at the medical marijuana dispensary in Anchorage, Alaska, on Feb. 20, 2015

In small amounts, for use in private, if you are over the age of 21

On Tuesday, Alaska’s new marijuana law officially goes into effect, which means that as of Feb. 24 recreational weed is now a legal substance in three states. Oregon is set to follow in July.

Adult residents in America’s northernmost state are now able to personally consume weed in their homes — as well as grow up to six plants — and confidently be on the right side of the law. If they get pulled over for expired tags and have up to an ounce of weed on their person, the latter is no longer going to get them in trouble. (So long as they haven’t been toking and driving.)

Consuming weed in public remains illegal. As Cynthia Franklin, director of the state’s liquor control board, said on Monday “People will not be legally lighting up out in the park tomorrow.” Should someone feel compelled to celebrate the occasion in public, they’re looking at a $100 fine. In the hopes of keeping everyone informed and behaving, legalization-advocacy group the Marijuana Policy Project will also be launching ads on the sides of Anchorage buses with messages like “Consume responsibly” and “With great marijuana laws comes great responsibility.”

MORE How Colleges Are Dealing With Legal Pot

Weed has been quasi-legal in Alaska since 1975, when the state’s supreme court ruled that Alaska’s constitutional right to privacy included the ability to possess and use a small amount of marijuana at home. But the force of that historic ruling became unclear when lawmakers explicitly criminalized the possession of pot, even at home, in 2006. While getting arrested for smoking weed at home was not a common occurrence before Alaska voters legalized it in 2014, Franklin says Tuesday marks a moment of clarity. “For the people of Alaska, it’s a day where all of this ‘Is it legal?’ or ‘Isn’t it legal?’ is straightened out,” she says.

Franklin’s team at the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board is in charge of setting up the state’s legal market. Tuesday also marks the first day they can get to work, though Franklin says she isn’t quite sure what that job will look like in a few months. On Feb. 22, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker introduced a bill that would set up a new Marijuana Control Board to oversee and enforce the law, rather than leaving it to the board that oversees liquor licenses. Franklin is also expecting lawmakers, currently in the midst of a busy session, to pass other marijuana-related bills that will affect the scope of their work, like legally defining the term edibles, or food prepared with marijuana.

Alaska officials have already visited Colorado to see how the social experiment is being run there, and they’re planning on a visit to Washington soon. Franklin is grateful that her state, the fourth to legalize marijuana, had a chance to learn from those trailblazers’ successes and challenges. A prime example is what she calls “the gummy bear problem” of children accidentally ingesting THC-packed treats that look like regular candy or snacks. She says that edibles in Alaska will be well labeled with recommended serving sizes and may be going before a board, one-by-one, to get pre-approved before they go to market.

But those details are just a few in a pile that officials will be racing through in hopes of getting the first marijuana business licenses issued in early 2016. “It’s really just the beginning for us,” Franklin says.

Read next: 7 Dizzying GIFs of Spinning Cannabis Strains

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Alaska

This State Leads the Country in Well-Being

A truck passes a street sign named for the Bore Tide at Turnagain Arm in Anchorage, Alaska, in 2014.
Streeter Lecka—Getty Images A truck passes a street sign named for the Bore Tide at Turnagain Arm on July 11, 2014 in Anchorage, Alaska.

Perhaps Sarah Palin knows something we don't

In terms of well-being, it seems Americans might want to move off the mainland: Alaska came in number one, with Hawaii following at second.

According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, this is Alaska’s first time in the top spot. But the bottom of the list hasn’t been so changeable. For the sixth year in a row, West Virginia came in last and Kentucky came in second-to-last in the 49th spot.

The 2014 index is based on 176,000 interviews with adults from all 50 states from January to December 2014, and is based on five aspects of well-being: purpose, social, financial, community and physical.

TIME States

Alaska Forced to Reroute Iditarod Sled-Dog Race Over Lack of Snow

Iditarod
Anchorage Daily News—MCT via Getty Images Mitch Seavey's dogs look back at the musher after they arrived at the White Mountain checkpoint during Alaska's Iditarod sled-dog race on March 10, 2014

Temperatures in Alaska are quickly increasing

The famous Iditarod sled-dog race will alter its route this year because of low snowfall.

This is only the second time in the race’s 42-year history that the climate has forced a course change, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports.

Temperatures in Alaska have been rising twice as fast as the national average, increasing an average of 6.3 degrees over 50 years, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Rocks and boulders that have been hidden for decades now block the dogs’ path to their finish line. This year, the race will start in Fairbanks rather than Willow and stretch over 1,000 miles.

[Fairbanks Daily News-Miner]

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