Power prices could be on the rise as pollution rules tighten, nation turns more to natural gas

NEW YORK (AP) -- Electricity prices are probably on their way up across much of the U.S. as coal-fired plants, the dominant source of cheap power, shut down in response to environmental regulations and economic forces.

New and tighter pollution rules and tough competition from cleaner sources such as natural gas, wind and solar will lead to the closings of dozens of coal-burning plants across 20 states over the next three years. And many of those that stay open will need expensive retrofits.

Because of these and other factors, the Energy Department predicts retail power prices will rise 4 percent on average this year, the biggest increase since 2008. By 2020, prices are expected to climb an additional 13 percent, a forecast that does not include the costs of coming environmental rules.

The Obama administration, state governments and industry are struggling to balance this push for a cleaner environment with the need to keep the grid reliable and prevent prices from rocketing too much higher.

"We’re facing a set of questions that are new to the industry," says Clair Moeller, who oversees transmission and technology for the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, which coordinates much of the electric grid between Minnesota and Louisiana.


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Russia to supply natural gas to China in 30-year deal worth $400 billion, boosting their ties

SHANGHAI (AP) -- China signed a landmark $400 billion deal Wednesday to buy natural gas from Russia, binding Moscow more closely to Beijing at a time when President Vladimir Putin’s relations with the West have deteriorated to the lowest point ever.

China’s president also called for an Asian security arrangement that would include Russia and Iran and exclude the United States.

The 30-year gas deal, worked out during a two-day visit by Putin to China, gives Moscow an economic boost at a time when Washington and the European Union have imposed sanctions against Russia and Europe has threatened to cut its gas imports to punish the Kremlin over the crisis in Ukraine.

The agreement enables Russia to expand the market for its gas, which now goes mostly to Europe.

It "opened the door for Russia to enter into Asia’s gas market," said Keun-Wook Paik, senior research fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.

Boko Haram attacks 3 Nigerian villages, as people search for bodies in Jos after bomb attacks

JOS, Nigeria (AP) -- Boko Haram assaulted three villages in northern Nigeria, killing 48 people, residents said Wednesday, hours after twin bombings claimed at least 118 lives in this central city in an attack the government blamed on the Islamic extremists.

One of the villages attacked between Tuesday night and early Wednesday is near the town of Chibok, where more than 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped last month by Boko Haram, according to residents and a state intelligence agent who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to give information to reporters.

Apagu Maidaga of Alagarno said residents of that village hid in the bush and watched while the extremists set ablaze their homes of thatch-roofed mud huts.

"We saw our village up in flames as we hid in the bush waiting for the dawn; we lost everything," he told The Associated Press in a telephone call.

In Jos, where at least 118 people were killed in twin bomb attacks Tuesday on a bustling bus terminal and a market, residents joined rescue workers armed with body bags in looking for missing loved ones.

Amid mounting outrage, Obama pledges to repair veterans’ health care, punish any wrongdoing

WASHINGTON (AP) -- With outrage mounting over veterans’ health care, President Barack Obama declared Wednesday that allegations of misconduct at VA hospitals will not be tolerated, and he left open the possibility that Secretary Eric Shinseki, a disabled war veteran, could be held to account.

"I will not stand for it -- not as commander in chief but also not as an American," Obama said following an Oval Office meeting with the embattled Shinseki.

Congress moved to keep up the pressure on the administration, with the House set for an evening vote on a measure that would give the VA secretary more authority to fire or demote senior hospital executives. The White House said it supported the goal of seeking greater accountability at the VA but had unspecified concerns about the legislation.

The growing furor surrounding the Department of Veterans Affairs centers on allegations of treatment delays and preventable deaths at VA hospitals. The department’s inspector general’s office says 26 facilities are being investigated nationwide, including a Phoenix hospital facing allegations that 40 people died while waiting for treatment and staff kept a secret list of patients in order to hide delays in care.

The allegations have raised fresh concerns about the administration’s management of a department that has been struggling to keep up with the influx of new veterans returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama’s comments Wednesday -- his first on the matter in more than two weeks -- signaled a greater urgency by the White House to keep the matter from spiraling into a deeper political problem in a midterm election year.

Police: California kidnapping, sex assault victim found alive after 10 years; captor arrested

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) -- A woman who was 15 when she disappeared 10 years ago from her California home has contacted police and says she was held against her will for years.

The Santa Ana Police Department said Wednesday that they have booked her captor, 41-year-old Isidro Garcia, on suspicion of kidnapping for rape, lewd acts with a minor and false imprisonment.

Police say she was dating Garcia in 2004, when she was 15.

Police say that after assaulting her mother, Garcia drugged the girl and drove her to a house in Compton where he locked her in a garage.

Over the coming months, police say he provided the girl with fake identification and used physical and emotional abuse to prevent her from fleeing.

Arrests of 6 in video dancing to ‘Happy’ highlight tensions over change in Iran

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- An Internet video of six young Iranian men and women dancing to Pharrell Williams’ "Happy" has led to their arrests, showing how far Tehran will go to halt what it deems to be decadent Western behavior -- despite the views of its moderate president.

Criticism outside Iran was predictably swift Wednesday, with calls for freedom for the jailed youths zipping around social media. Williams tweeted: "It’s beyond sad these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness."

A tweet posted Wednesday evening on President Hassan Rouhani’s account seemed to address the controversy, even if it stopped short of mentioning the video or the arrests directly.

"(hash)Happiness is our people’s right," it said. "We shouldn’t be too hard on behaviors caused by joy."

The widely followed account appears to reflect Rouhani’s positions. Iranian media in the past quoted Rouhani as saying the account is authentic. At the same time, a senior Rouhani adviser said last year that the president had such an account only during the presidential campaign and that Rouhani’s views are represented by his official website.

House Democrats to participate in GOP-led Benghazi probe;
Pelosi taps 5 members

WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Democrats will participate in the special, Republican-led select committee investigating the deadly 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, despite serious concerns within the party that the inquiry is an election-year ploy to energize core GOP voters.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced on Wednesday that she will appoint the full complement of five Democrats on the 12-member panel, tapping lawmakers who have been deeply involved in previous congressional investigations of the Sept. 11, 2012, assault on the U.S. diplomatic outpost.

Four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, died in the attack when militants stormed the mission. Republicans have accused the Obama administration of misleading Americans about a terror attack weeks before the election.

"I believe we need someone in that room to simply defend the truth," Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Oversight panel, told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference.

Cummings will serve as the ranking member on the select committee. Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had selected Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., a seasoned prosecutor, to be the panel’s chairman along with six other Republicans.

Government proposes requiring airlines to disclose bag, assigned-seat, carry-on fees

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Passengers love the idea, but airlines hate it. The government wants to require that travelers be told upfront about basic services that aren’t included in the price of a ticket and how much extra they’ll cost.

The Transportation Department proposed Wednesday that passengers be provided detailed information on fees for a first checked bag, a second checked bag, advance seat assignments and carry-on bags.

The rules would apply whether passengers bought tickets on the phone, in person or online -- and not just from airline websites. Airlines that want their tickets to remain available through travel agents and online ticketing services would have to provide them information on fees for basic services, too, something most have been reluctant to do.

The idea is to prevent consumers from being lured by low advertised airfares, only to be surprised later by high fees for services once considered part of the ticket price.

Airlines currently are required to disclose only bag fees, and even then they don’t have to provide an exact price. Some provide a wide range of possible fees in complex charts.

Libya’s renegade general calls for presidential council to take over power

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) -- Gen. Khalifa Hifter has been waiting decades for his moment.

A top general under Moammar Gadhafi, he was tainted by a disastrous defeat in a war against neighboring Chad. Exiled in the United States, he helped lead the opposition and vowed to return one day. Since Gadhafi’s 2011 ouster he has struggled for a role, distrusted by other generals.

Now his time may have come. He is presenting himself as Libya’s potential savior after nearly two years of chaos in which unruly militias are exercising power over elected officials and assassinating dozens of soldiers and police.

In less than a week since Hifter surfaced, supporters flocked to his self-professed campaign to crush Islamist militias and their backers in parliament and to bring stability to the country.

But there are fears his ultimate goal is to make himself into a new Gadhafi, and his democratic credentials are far from established.

Instant ad wars: Kentucky’s Senate race is in high gear even before primary confetti settles

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Instantly on the attack, allies of Republican leader Mitch McConnell launched a televised barrage against newly minted Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky’s high-stakes Senate race on Wednesday, a day after several states’ primaries also set up a Republican runoff in Georgia and left tea party insurgents still scratching for a breakthrough triumph.

Grimes countered with a new ad of her own, promising Kentucky’s voters, "no matter who the president is, I won’t answer to him, I’ll only answer to you." It marked a quick attempt to neutralize McConnell’s assertion that she would serve as a rubber stamp for President Barack Obama.

The exchange underscored the president’s unpopularity in Kentucky, where a recent Courier-Journal Bluegrass poll of registered voters found that only 29 percent of those surveyed had a favorable opinion of him and 57 percent had an unfavorable one. McConnell’s ratings after 30 years in office are almost as bad, the poll said, 29 percent favorable and 49 percent unfavorable.

Kentucky and Georgia stand out as two of the most competitive races in the country this fall, at the center of a nationwide campaign in which Republicans are mounting a strong effort to gain six Senate seats and win a majority. Somewhat improbably, given the states’ strong Republican leanings, they also are the two where Democrats have their strongest hopes of winning seats currently in GOP hands and offsetting inevitable losses elsewhere.

Michelle Nunn, the easy winner of the Georgia Democratic nomination, campaigned in Atlanta on Wednesday and predicted the Republican runoff would be a "race to extremes and represents the acrimony and inflexibility that people are tired of already in Washington."