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American cuts legroom, Facebook ups violence watch, more

An American Airlines plane on the tarmac of McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada. RHONA WISE/AFP/Getty Images/File

Welcome to Talking Points for Wednesday, May 3. Interest rates headed up? Read what happened when the Fed met today. We’ll tell you about a “green” hire at Putnam Investments. President Donald Trump’s business acumen may be off when it comes to the “failing New York Times.” And you won’t believe what the airlines are doing a day after Congress read them the riot act.

Chesto means business

Energy heats up State House again: For the region’s renewable energy industry, it’s time to wrap up some unfinished business.

The Legislature passed a major energy bill last summer packed with requirements for utilities to buy power from Canadian dams and wind farm developers. But there was one thing the clean-tech crew lost in the final negotiations: a measure that would speed up the paceof requirements for buying renewable energy.

These mandates are “renewable portfolio standards” aimed at diversifying our energy mix and ensuring it’s more environmentally friendly. Eversource and National Grid need to buy 12 percent of their statewide electricity purchases from renewable sources, or face penalties. That number increases annually by 1 percentage point: 13 percent in 2018, 14 percent in 2019, and so on.

That pace is too slow for the Northeast Clean Energy Council. The trade group will head to the State House on May 16 to lobby for annual increases of at least 2 percentage points. The move, NECEC says, would help the state meet its carbon emissions reduction goals and foster job growth.

But this push will face resistance. Associated Industries of Massachusetts prefers to wait, to see how the 2016 energy bill will affect the electricity market. It’s unclear, AIM argues, if enough renewable projects would be proposed to meet the accelerated mandates anyway, and the new RPS legislation would almost certainly drive up electricity bills for businesses and consumers.

This tug-of-war essentially plays out in almost every energy debate on Beacon Hill. Lawmakers should brace themselves for another one. 

Jon Chesto is a Globe reporter. Reach him at jon.chesto@globe.com and follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.

Executive summary

No interest in rate hike: The Federal Reserve declined to hike short-term interest rates today , describing recent signs of an economic slowdown as likely temporary. However, the central bank reiterated that there could be two more quarter-point rate increases later this year.

The Fed news followed continued mixed signals about the economy’s strength. Private employers added 177,000 jobs in April, beating projections but still the smallest payroll gain since October’s 62,000 new jobs.

On the plus side, the Institute for Supply Management reported an April uptick in the services sector. Its index climbed to 57.8. (Anything above 50 signals expansion.) 

However, we've seen slim GDP growth on lackluster consumer spending and manufacturing and construction sectors  sputtering. The housing market also hasn’t rebounded. There’s a shortage of new home construction. And a new report out today finds most US homes have not recovered the value lost from the housing crash.

Putnam's sustainable hire: Putnam Investments has hired Katherine Collins to lead its environmental, social, and governance investment team. Putnam hired Collins away from Fidelity as part of its bid to increase specialty offerings where active fund management makes a difference.

Putnam, with $160 billion under management, said there’s a growing demand for environmental, social, and governance funds. Unlike index funds, they require active management.

In addition to her Fidelity tenure, Collins ran Honeybee Capital, which provided research on sustainable investing.

Bank regulator cashiered: Thomas Curry, head of the US Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, is stepping down at the end of the week.

If Curry’s name sounds familiar, it should. He served three stints as state acting or commissioner of banks from 1995 to 2003. He was appointed to the OCC by President Obama. After five years regulating federal banks, Curry is leaving as President Trump installs his own team. While Trump has expressed openness to a new Glass-Steagall, he also criticized the banking industry for making credit too tight after the recession, and his detractors worry he could open up the lending industry to greater risk.
New flight plans: Tensions between airlines and consumers may have reached a high. Now, American Airlines is cutting legroom on some economy-class flights, and United Airlines is considering following suit.

Word the airlines are looking to further cramp travelers' style comes a day a congressional hearing on both airlines' mistreatment of customers. Faced with the threat of government action, top executives pledged they would do a better job of customer service. We await the first viral cramped legroom video.

Facebook is watching: Facebook is hiring 3,000 people to review contentto curb violent videos. That's in addition to the 4,500 monitors already employed by Facebook.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the change in a blog post. The social media giant has been criticized for not doing enough to prevent violent videos, such as one by a Cleveland man murdering another man, spreading on Facebook.


Alternative facts:President Trump often mocks the “ failing New York Times. ” The Times announced it added 308,000 digital subscriptions in the first quarter, breaking its previous record. New subscriptions boosed net income to $13.2 million in the first quarter, reversing what had been an $8.3 million loss a year earlier.


Line items

People flock to Taco Bell for Naked Chicken:
CEO promises more naked products after $25m in sales -- Reuters

Atrius slashes 125 positions, freezes salaries:
Largest Mass. physician group posted Q1 $37m loss -- Boston Business Journal

AstraZeneca partners up with Boston biotech:
Pieris Pharma in $45m deal to develop inhalable respiratory disease drugs -- Boston Business Journal

Puerto Rico declares federal bankruptcy:
Creditors owed $73b, dwarfs Detroit debt of $18b  -- New York Times

Delta explains meltdown behind 4,000 spring flight delays:
Jammed phone lines paralyzed entire airline -- Wall Street Journal



French connection: A deal between nuTonomy, the Boston developer of software for self-driving cars, and the French maker of Peugeot and Citroen signals the future of the race to develop self-driving vehicles.

As reported in today’s Globe, nuTonomy has reached a deal with Groupe PSA to use Peugeots to gain real world test experience on the streets of Singapore. Nutonomy already has similar deals with Renault, Mitsubishi, Lincoln, and Land Rover vehicles.

The deal is significant in two ways. First, it reflects American dominance in self-driving technology. Second, it signals automakers don’t have this technology cornered, and feel the need to partner up with companies that can give them a boost.


Talking Points newsletter is compiled by Edward Mason. Follow him on Twitter at  @EBMason If you liked what you've read, please tell your friends to sign up.