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US and World News

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    Consumer Reports checks out the five best and the five worst major retailers for returns. Among the best are Nordstrom and L.L. Bean, which both allow returns with no receipts and no time limit. Sears and Barnes and Noble are listed as among the worst retailers to return items to for their more restrictive policies.

    Photo Credit: Consumer Reports

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    Uber will allow users to set a specific person, rather than a place, as the destination of a ride, the company announced Wednesday. 

    The new feature, which will launch Wednesday, is called "Uber to Person," the company wrote in a blog post. 

    "With Uber, you are going from point a to b. The new Uber to Person feature recognizes that people aren't just going to point b, they are trying to get to each other," Uber product manager Yuhki Yamashita told Mashable.

    Starting Wednesday, Uber users can link their contacts with the Uber app. Users will then be able to add a contact's name instead of an address as the destination for a ride. 

    Uber will then ask the contact for their current location, which will be used as the destination for the ride. 

    "...skip the back and forth, forget the address, and get straight to whom you’re meeting up with," Uber wrote in a blog post to introduce the new feature.



    Photo Credit: AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File

    In this Dec. 16, 2014, file photo a man leaves the headquarters of Uber in San Francisco.In this Dec. 16, 2014, file photo a man leaves the headquarters of Uber in San Francisco.

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    Two pairs of sneakers worn by Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry and designed to honor the victims of this month's deadly Oakland warehouse fire are up for auction to raise money for the Oakland Fire Relief fund.

    The all star and reigning two-time NBA MVP laced up the sneakers last Thursday, one pair during pregame warm-ups and the other for the game against the visiting New York Knicks at Oracle Arena in Oakland.

    The shoes were designed to honor the creative souls who died in the Dec. 2 blaze that started during an electronic dance party at the so-called Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland.

    The in-game shoes say "Oakland strong" while the pre-game ones feature the words "Ghost Ship." The shoes, designed by two artists from the Maryland area, are each adorned with the 36 victims' initials and are size 12.5.

    "We were all devastated by the news of this tragedy and the loss of so many young lives right here in our community," Curry said on the Warriors' website. "My goal in wearing these shoes was to not only honor the victims that lost their lives that night, but also to raise awareness for the relief efforts that are underway. Hopefully through this auction we can help further assist with those efforts."

    The eBay auction will run for 10 days, through Dec. 30. The bids for both pairs stood at just above $10,000 on Wednesday.

    All of the proceeds will go to the Oakland Fire Relief fund, which has raised more than $500,000 to help those affected by the deadly warehouse fire.

    The shoes were created by Dez Customz and KreativeCustomKicks as commissioned by Curry in partnership with Under Armour.

    In addition to proceeds raised from the auction, Under Armour is committing $25,000 to the donation fund.

    Warriors players and coaches have already pledged $75,000 to ongoing relief efforts. The money is in addition to $50,000 the Warriors organization donated after the tragedy.

    Meanwhile, federal investigators completed their investigation of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire and turned their evidence over to the Oakland Fire Department. How the blaze started and who might be held responsible for it have not yet been determined.



    Photo Credit: Getty Images
    This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.

    A close-up of the shoes that Stephen Curry wore during the Golden State Warriors' game against the New York Knicks at ORACLE Arena on December 15, 2016, in Oakland, California. The shoes are a tribute to all the lives that were lost in the Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland on December 2. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)A close-up of the shoes that Stephen Curry wore during the Golden State Warriors' game against the New York Knicks at ORACLE Arena on December 15, 2016, in Oakland, California. The shoes are a tribute to all the lives that were lost in the Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland on December 2. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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    A former Michigan State University doctor — who has been accused of molesting dozens of patients, including at least one Olympic gymnast — was hit with a third lawsuit on Wednesday, NBC News reported. 

    Tiffany Thomas Lopez, 36, alleged in court papers that Dr. Larry Nassar repeatedly abused her under the guise of invasive pelvic treatments when she was a student athlete and that Michigan State staffers ignored her complaints.

    The suit, which also names Michigan State, is the latest legal blow for Nassar. He's been accused of violating girls and young women in more than 50 police complaints. He was charged last month with sexually assaulting a young girl at his home, and was just arrested on child pornography charges.



    Photo Credit: AP

    File - Dr. Larry Nassar appears during a video arraignment in Mason, Mich., Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016.File - Dr. Larry Nassar appears during a video arraignment in Mason, Mich., Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016.

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    More Americans than ever are being diagnosed with melanoma, and it's not just because doctors are better at catching it early, researchers told NBC News Wednesday.

    Despite warnings to stay out of the sun, use sunscreen and shun tanning beds, rates of the deadliest form of skin cancer have risen steadily since 2009, the team of skin experts said.

    "The current lifetime risk of an American developing invasive melanoma is 1 in 54 compared with 1 in 58 when we last reported in 2009," they wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association's JAMA Dermatology.



    Photo Credit: Getty Images

    A mole caused by melanoma skin cancer is pictured in this file photo.A mole caused by melanoma skin cancer is pictured in this file photo.

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    Santa's expected to enter North American airspace half an hour before Christmas Eve, at 04:30 Zulu time, according to the mission team in Canada charged with tracking his trip around the world this weekend.

    That's right, Canada helps the U.S. out with tracking Santa's present-delivering flight. The North American Aerospace Defense Command, run jointly by the two nations, does it each year live online.

    Part of the team is based in Canada, and it's "one of the coolest jobs in the world," says Maj. Gen. Christian Drouin, commander of the Canadian NORAD Region, in a YouTube video that explains just how the tracking gets done.

    Anyone can follow the journey online with the Santa tracker website — it's live now and begins tracking Father Christmas early Saturday morning — but only a select few actually escort Mr. Kringle into North American airspace. That'd be a pair of Canadian fighter jets based out of Quebec, Drouin and his team explained.

    Santa and the military communicate with a direct land line, and when he visits the Canadian NORAD Region headquarters in Winnipeg, he gets to sit in Drouin's chair in the briefing room. "Nobody else sits there but me!" Drouin exclaims.

    NORAD monitors North American airspace for missile attacks and other unauthorized objects in the sky, and Drouin says the same technology keeps tabs on Santa's present-laden sleigh.

    "Let me tell you a secret: Rudolph's nose glows on our radar. We can see the red nose from miles away," Drouin said, confidentially.

    There are other videos already live on the tracker website, along with games, music and more. As usual, "Santa Cams" will stream videos as Saint Nick begins his route, and starting at 6:01 a.m., trackers can call 1-877-HI-NORAD or email noradtrackssanta@outlook.com and ask an operator for Santa's exact location.

    Fifteen hundred people are ready to answer phone calls and emails, while more than 9 million unique visitors visit the website from upwards of 200 countries and territories worldwide, NORAD says.

    The tracking service began 61 years ago, when a misprinted phone number in a newspaper ad directed children thinking they had Santa's direct line to dial an Air Force base in Colorado that hosted the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center, now NORAD.

    The commander on duty played along, checking the radar for signs of Santa for each of the inquisitive kids, and a tradition was born. 



    Photo Credit: NORAD
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    Federal agents are investigating a suspected Capitol Hill-based DVD bootlegging operation, in which thousands of dollars in pirated copies of "The West Wing," "The Sopranos," "The Twilight Zone" and "The Big Bang Theory" were imported from Hong Kong and resold. 

    Agents filed search warrants this month to review the bank accounts of a suspected participant in the operation. The bank records were seized Dec. 6 the agents reported in a filing Tuesday night.

    The operation is suspected of distributing the illegal products through online sales.

    Illegal copies of the TV shows were imported into the country in 2011 and 2012, according to court filings. The court records, submitted by an agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, do not say whether the operation is suspected of continuing to function after 2012.

    Investigators have seized 16 suspicious shipments, including at least six found during inspections at a DHL shipping facility in Washington, D.C., court filings indicate. Those shipments included 522 counterfeit DVD TV series, including at least $2,800 worth of copies of the D.C.-based "The West Wing."

    The parcels were sent from Hong Kong, according to a federal agent.

    A suspect in the operation lives in Washington, D.C.'s Capitol Hill neighborhood. According to court filings, the man lives a "modest lifestyle" in a low-rent home. Federal agents said they found 1,965 DVDs at the man's home; at least 300 of which were determined to be counterfeit.

    The man's home was raided by federal agents in February 2012, according to court records.

    According to federal agents, $6,000 worth of DVD box sets for the "The Big Bang Theory" and "The Twilight Zone Compete Series" were also found. 

    Court filings said an investigator with the Motion Pictures Association of America is participating the investigation.



    Photo Credit: Michael O'Neil/NBCU Photo Bank

    Cast of Cast of "The West Wing"

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    About 30 babies being treated in a Kansas neonatal intensive care unit couldn't go to the mall for a photo with Santa last week, so hospital staff members and volunteers brought the holiday cheer inside, the "Today" show reported. 

    The little bundles of joy were dressed up as colorful presents for Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, thanks to hand-sewn costumes made by staff members and volunteers at St. Luke's Hospital of Kansas City and the March of Dimes. Santa came in to take photos as well.

    "It makes things a little bit easier especially around this time of year," Kaitlyn Bunch, whose daughters Helen and Vivian are in the NICU, told "Today." "I am really happy to have those pictures."

    The costumes were made so they wouldn't interfere with wires and tubes, all of it a way to help families celebrate the holidays despite the stress of being at a NICU, representatives said.



    Photo Credit: Helen Ransom / Faces You Love Photography/March of Dimes

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    A mysterious man made Christmas come early at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston.

    "I was flabbergasted to think that someone would call and tell me that," said Maryanne Rooney-Hegan, St. Anthony Shrine's director of development.

    On the other side of the phone line was a man who had just hit it big. In his hands he had a winning lottery ticket worth $100,000.

    He wanted to give it all to the church in Downtown Crossing.

    "It's just a terrific gift for Christmas," Rooney-Hegan said.

    Fr. Thomas Conway, the executive director of the church, said he could barely contain his excitement as he held the enormous check.

    "It's hard to raise money," Conway noted.

    The money will pay for the Shrine's programs,  which help thousands of people in need. 

    But it's still a mystery who the generous donor is.

    "We really don't know if it's someone who is barely getting by and wants to be super generous or someone of tremendous wealth," Conway said. "My hunch is somewhere in the middle."

    One of the only people who knows the donor's identity is Rooney-Hegan.

    "He has a heart as big as Fenway Park and he does come to church here," she said.

    The $100,000 donation is the largest anonymous gift the church has gotten in years.



    Photo Credit: Mass. Lottery

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    President-elect Donald Trump is calling the truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market “an attack on humanity.” Trump spoke briefly to reporters outside his Mar-a-lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida today, remarking briefly on the recent violence Germany and Turkey.

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    Los Angeles police officer Maurice Gomez considers teaching women to protect themselves his life's purpose, and he usually does it for free, NBC News reports.

    This purpose stems from a personal tragedy, when Gomez learned his girlfriend was raped and killed by a stranger, then left on the side of the road.

    "I put blame on myself because I should have been there," said Gomez, owner of MG Kenpo Academy in Duarte, California, and a tactical defense instructor for the LAPD. "Ever since then, it was something I carried inside of me, where I didn't want anybody to have to feel that."

    The fourth-degree black belt now offers free specialized self-defense classes for women watching them gain in confidence and strength as they prepare for the worst.



    Photo Credit: NBC News

    LAPD officer Maurice Gomez (center) at a women's self-defense class he teaches in Duarte, California.LAPD officer Maurice Gomez (center) at a women's self-defense class he teaches in Duarte, California.

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    A Kentucky mall says it plans to permanently ban a shopper who berated two Hispanic women in a racially-charged, expletive-laden tirade captured on video.

    The video, posted by Renee Bucker to Facebook and YouTube Tuesday night, shows a white woman chiding the shopper for bringing items to the cashier while a friend was checking out.

    "They can't act like the hero, they come here to live and act like everybody else," the woman is heard saying. "Get in the back of the line like everybody else does and be somebody. That's the way I look at it. You're nobodies, just because you come from another country, it don't make you nobody."

    The woman tells the two Hispanic shoppers to "go back to wherever the f--- you come from," and "speak English."

    "You’re in America. If you don’t know it, learn it,” she continued, and claimed taxpayers probably paid for the woman's items because "she's on welfare."

    Buckner's pastor, Pastor Timothy Findley, Jr., of Kingdom Fellowship Christian Life Center in Louisville, tell NBC News that after the video stopped rolling, according to Buckner, the woman continued "to just racially heckle these women, and made specific comments regarding Donald Trump 'fixing' this" and "making America great again."

    "We are aware of the video posted online [Tuesday] from inside JCPenney,” a mall spokesperson wrote on its official Facebook page. “Jefferson Mall strives to create a comfortable and convenient experience for all of our guests and we absolutely do not condone this type of behavior. We will work with JCPenney to identify this woman and, once identified, she will be permanently banned from Jefferson Mall, per our Behavioral Code of Conduct.” 

    Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said he was "sad and disappointed to see conduct like this," and hopes the video prompts family discussions about "basic human values, dignity and respect" during the holidays.

    "As a country of immigrants, we must understand that we only move forward through peace, acceptance and embracing those who are different from us," Fischer said in a statement. "These are basic American values protected in our Constitution, values embraced in this welcoming, compassionate community.”

    Meanwhile, JCPenney said it is "deeply disturbed" by the incident and is asking for the public's help in identifying the two Hispanic women who were targeted so they could reimburse them for their entire purchase and "offer a sincere apology for their experience."

    "We are deeply disturbed by the incident that took place at our Jefferson Mall store, in which one customer made extremely inappropriate remarks to two other customers while standing in the checkout line," JCPenney spokesman Joey Thomas said. "We regret that innocent bystanders – both other customers and a JCPenney associate – were subjected to such discriminatory remarks. We absolutely do not tolerate this behavior in our stores, and are working with our associates to ensure any future incidents of this nature will be addressed quickly and appropriately."

    The video had been viewed more than 6 million times on Facebook, and had been shared more than 161,000 times, before it was taken down from the social media site Wednesday afternoon, according to NBC affiliate WAVE.


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    What Donald Trump's presidency will look like is unclear to many observers. He has not previously worked in politics, and has made contradictory statements on policy issues in several areas during his campaign. Despite the unknowns, Trump has an extensive public profile that, along with his real estate empire and the Trump brand, grew domestically and internationally over the last few decades. Here is a look at the president-elect's personal and career milestones and controversies.

    Photo Credit: AP

    Donald Trump in 1986 and 2016.Donald Trump in 1986 and 2016.

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    John Kerry's spokesman said Wednesday the U.S. Secretary of State has raised concerns about "some of the rhetoric coming out of Turkey" suggesting U.S. is connected to a political movement the Turkish president blames for the assassination of Russia's ambassador to Turkey, NBC News reported. 

    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan claimed loyalists of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric who lives in Pennsylvania, are responsible for Monday's killing of Ambassador Andrey Karlov at an Ankara art gallery, Reuters reported.

    "It's a ludicrous claim, absolutely false, there's no basis of truth in it whatsoever," State Department spokesman John Kirby later reporters of rhetoric suggesting the U.S. supported the assassination "because of the presence of Mr. Gulen here in the United States."

    No motive has been released for why 22-year-old Mevlut Mert Altintas, a member of Ankara's riot police, opened fire on the envoy. Senior Turkish officials don't believe it was a lone wolf attack. 



    Photo Credit: Burhan Ozbilici/AP

    Mevlut Mert Altintas shouts after shooting the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, at a photo gallery in Ankara, Turkey, Monday, Dec. 19, 2016. A Russian official says that the country's ambassador to Turkey has died after being shot by a gunman in Ankara.Mevlut Mert Altintas shouts after shooting the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, at a photo gallery in Ankara, Turkey, Monday, Dec. 19, 2016. A Russian official says that the country's ambassador to Turkey has died after being shot by a gunman in Ankara.

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    President-elect Donald Trump said the truck ramming attack at a Christmas market in Berlin is an "attack on humanity and it's got to be stopped."

    Trump made the comments in brief remarks to reporters at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida following a top-secret security briefing. He said the violence in Germany validates his assessment of Islamic-inspired threats.

    "Hey, you've known my plans all along and it's, they've proven to be right, 100 percent. What's happening is disgraceful," he said. 

    Trump condemned the Berlin attack in a statement on Monday.

    "ISIS and other Islamist terrorists continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad," he said then. 

    Asked on Wednesday about his statement that ISIS is targeting Christians, Trump said: "Who said that, when did, when was that said?"

    When a reporter said it was part of his statement, Trump responded: "It's an attack on humanity. That's what it is, it's an attack on humanity and it's got to be stopped."

    With Trump during Wednesday's remarks were his pick for national security adviser, retired Gen. Michael Flynn, and his incoming White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus.

    Trump also said he talked to President Barack Obama two days ago, but not since then.



    Photo Credit: AP

    President-elect Donald Trump, center, accompanied by Trump Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, right, and retired Gen. Michael Flynn, a senior adviser to Trump, left, speaks to members of the media at Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Florida, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016.President-elect Donald Trump, center, accompanied by Trump Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, right, and retired Gen. Michael Flynn, a senior adviser to Trump, left, speaks to members of the media at Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Florida, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016.

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    Next year, even if President-elect Donald Trump does try to save the environmentally retrograde coal industry as promised, Google will be heading in the opposite direction — buying enough wind and solar energy to account for all of the electricity it uses at its data centers and offices around the world.

    Another of Trump's promises, to abandon the Paris climate agreement, prompted hundreds of American companies, among them Mars, Levi Strauss, Nike and Starbucks, to write urging him to abide by the agreement and the decreases in greenhouse gases it calls for.

    And in California, Gov. Jerry Brown warned after the election that if Trump puts an end to research conducted by NASA, "California will launch its own damn satellite."

    With a Trump administration threatening to reverse the current administration's environmental agenda — his choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency has sued the agency repeatedly — corporations and states, not the federal government, could be out front on advances to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, create clean-energy jobs and keep the air and water free of pollution.

    "A motivated state can accomplish a great deal," said Michael B. Gerrard, the faculty director of Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University in New York City. "California is the jurisdiction leading the world on action on climate change. It has adopted a very ambitious plan that in most respects does not depend on the federal government."

    California's goal: to reduce pollution 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. The plan will be anchored by the state’s own cap-and-trade program, which sets a limit on emissions and creates a market for carbon allowances.

    California's governor vowed last week to challenge any attempts to halt climate change research, including NASA's satellite programs that collect information on temperature, ice and clouds. Climate scientists have been worried about the future of the program since two of Trump's space policy advisers wrote about the agency's focus on "politically correct environmental monitoring."

    "We've got the scientists, we've got the lawyers and we're ready to fight," Brown told a meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

    Elsewhere states in the Northeast have come together to create a regional cap-and-trade program. Hawaii plans to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. Illinois' lawmakers this month voted for the Future Energy Jobs Bill, which is expected to expand clean energy, create thousands of jobs and spur billions of dollars in investment in what the Environmental Defense Fund called "the most significant clean energy economic development package in the state's history."

    Twenty-nine states plus the District of Columbia require utilities to get a minimum percentage of their power from renewable energy, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory. In 2013, the renewable portfolio standards accounted for 2.4 percent of nationwide electricity generation and a 3.6 percent reduction in fossil fuel generation.

    Lawmakers who are less aggressive about advancing renewable energy are under pressure. Ohio's Republicans just voted to make the state's program optional and not only has Gov. John Kasich objected but the solar panel manufacturer, First Solar, which has a research laboratory in Ohio, is threatening to leave, taking with it the $100 million it spends in the state, according to Cleveland.com.

    Most of the ways that states would reform the mix of their energy generation do not depend on the federal government, though tax credits for wind and solar energy are helpful, Gerrard said. The principal regulation that does require federal okay, though not money, is tighter fuel-economy standards for motor vehicles, he said. If the federal government were to back off those standards, California could pass its own but only with EPA approval. Other states could then adopt California's standards. There also are limitations on a state's ability to control the sources of electricity that flow into the state, he said.

    Even states that are politically hostile to national efforts to fight climate change are taking action, often for economic reasons. Texas, for example, with the most proven oil reserves, is among the states that sued and temporarily blocked President Barack Obama's signature Clean Power Plan, the first to set a national limit on carbon pollution. At the same time, it is leading the country in the development of wind energy, which provided nearly 12 percent of the energy used in the state last year.

    Gerrard said he was apprehensive about Trump's planned environmental program. The announced agenda calls for backpedalling on many of the country's most important environmental laws, he said.

    "If Congress starts pre-empting state laws, then we're in wholly new territory,” Gerrard said. "Hopefully they won't be that aggressive in trying to kill environmental protection."

    There are some areas where the federal government does pre-empt state regulations such as those governing nuclear power, but not many, Gerrard said. And even if laws are not repealed, Trump could starve the EPA of the money it needs and slow enforcement dramatically, he said. It's also not clear if Congress will act to overturn Obama's recent protection of the bulk of U.S.-owned waters in the Arctic Ocean and certain areas in the Atlantic Ocean from future oil and gas leasing.

    The United Nations warns that climate change is already affecting every country on every continent with severe weather and rising seas. And if left unchecked, the effects will likely be "severe, pervasive and irreversible."

    During the campaign Trump pledged to "cancel" U.S. participation in the Paris Climate Agreement, though he later told The New York Times he had “an open mind to it.” Bailing on the agreement could leave the planet in peril, scientists say.

    The Paris deal, which officially went into effect last month, aims to avert the most dangerous effects of global warming by limiting the rise in the global average temperature to below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. That's the tipping point beyond which many believe the effects of climate change will become irreversible, according to Climate Interactive, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

    The United States, the world’s second-largest polluter, has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below the 2005 levels by the year 2025. That accounts for about 20 percent of the expected reductions, Climate Interactive found.

    What Trump believes about climate change isn’t clear. During the campaign, he tweeted that it was a Chinese hoax meant to make U.S. manufacturing less competitive, though later he said his comment was a joke. In a video detailing his agenda for his first 100 days in office, he said, "I will cancel job-killing restrictions on the production of American energy – including shale energy and clean coal – creating many millions of high-paying jobs."

    Then there are his nominees, proponents of fossil fuel and climate change skeptics. Environmentalists panned all of them.

    The Oklahoma attorney general, Scott Pruitt, who would lead the EPA, questions how much effect human activity is having on global warming and is among the state attorneys general to sue over Obama's Clean Power Plan, a case that is pending. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, picked to head the Energy Department, has said he would eliminate the department and has mocked "the secular carbon cult." Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, Trump's choice for the Interior Department, has claimed climate change is not "proven science" and supports ending a moratorium on federal coal leases on public lands.

    Finally, Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who would become secretary of state, leads a company under investigation into whether it withheld information from investors showing man-made emissions were changing the climate. Under Tillerson's leadership Exxon Mobil has endorsed the Paris agreement and shifted its stance on climate change, though Tillerson has continued to question predictions about its effect. 

    "This is an administration that is dead set on putting polluters ahead of people every single time," said May Boeve, the executive director of the environmental group, 350.org.

    Danny Cullenward, an energy economist and lawyer at the Carnegie Institution for Science in San Francisco, said that it was an important time to focus on the private sector and on government other than at the federal level.

    "I would agree that states are absolutely in the driver's seat,” he said. "And I think that goes to some really interesting opportunities to do things right, albeit maybe at a small scale.”

    States should focus not just on decreasing their own emissions but also on models that can be adapted to other places — ones with smaller regulatory agencies, for example, that need simpler policies to adopt.

    "A lot of the regulation in the energy sector has traditionally been at the state rather than at the federal level," he said. "So states that want to change the way their energy systems, particularly their electricity systems, are operated have a lot of authority to do that."

    A federal government determined to roll back environmental regulations could do real damage, environmentalists say. The GOP-led Congress has tried to pass almost 150 measures to reverse environmental regulations, including working against ones that set limits on mercury and ozone, said Jeremy Symons an associate vice president at the Environmental Defense Fund. The conservative House Freedom Caucus has provided Trump with a recommended list of regulations to eliminate, 43 of which are aimed at undermining the country’s progress on clean energy, while others would go after environmental protections, he wrote.

    "It might be nice to think that things will just move forward but you can’t ignore Washington and the potential move in the opposite direction,” Symons said.

    And although progress will be made outside of Washington, a lack of federal backing will hurt, Symons said. Not only is time running out to combat climate change, but with renewable energy affordable and creating jobs, this is when the country should be accelerating the transition, he said.

    "If Washington is a drag pulling us backwards instead of propelling us forwards, there is an enormous missed opportunity there," he said.

    A too ambitious agenda could backfire as happened to President Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, said Symons and Steven Cohen, director of Columbia University's Earth Institute. Reagan's choice of Anne Gorsuch Burford for the EPA resigned after 22 months after she cut the agency's budget by 22 percent and came under fire over mismanagement of hazardous waste cleanup. The Bush administration had to reverse itself on plans to withdraw rules limiting arsenic in drinking water.

    Regulations often force an improvement on an industry, and people's expectations are raised, whether for health and safety or clean water and air, Cohen said. Ralph Nader's "Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile," published in 1965, eventually led to safety advances such as seat belts, airbags and antilock brakes — despite resistance from automobile manufacturers concerned about cost. Today, customers pay more for vehicles with higher safety ratings, Cohen said.

    Climate change is more difficult an issue to tackle, because it is occurring everywhere and its effects are still largely in the future, he said. He would reframe the issue as one of air pollution.

    "Air pollution, water pollution and particularly toxic waste, these are issues that people see and feel and smell," he said. 

    The EPA has been one of the most successful agencies, its regulations curbing pollution that had been rising in concert with an expanding economy, Cohen said. By the 1980s, the GDP kept growing but absolute pollution levels started to fall, he said. Some businesses might be harmed by regulation but society as a whole benefits, he said.

    "The idea that you have to choose between protecting and growing the economy is simply untrue," he said.

    Google announced this month that it would be powered 100 percent by wind and solar power next year — meaning that the amount it buys from renewable sources each year will match the electricity it uses. It signed its first agreement to buy all of the electricity from a wind farm in Iowa in 2010. In the six years since, the cost of producing wind power has come down 60 percent and that of solar power, 80 percent, the company said. Going forward, Google will be focused on signing agreements for low-carbon power that is not intermittent such as hydro and biomass.

    "Many corporations realize they can save large amounts of money, energy efficiency of operations by lowering electricity and natural gas bills," Gerrard said.

    Ceres, a non-profit organization advocating for sustainable business practices, has found that more than 60 percent of the Fortune 500 companies have set goals for the use of renewable energy or the most efficient use of energy, said Anne Kelly, a senior program director. States as a result are diversifying their energy sources to attract those businesses and the tax base and jobs they provide.

    "There's really something to be said to the unstoppable momentum of the private sector, particularly in the area of procuring renewable energy," said Anne Kelly, a non-profit organization advocating for sustainable business practices.

    Ceres will continue to make a clear business case for clean energy, for listening to the demands of power purchases not just power suppliers and the oil lobby, she said. Regulations such as the CAFE or corporate average fuel economy standards — first enacted by Congress in 1975 to increase the fuel economy of cars and trucks — are sending the right market signals and spurring the changes needed to transition to a low-carbon economy, Kelley said. Companies are locking into long-term power purchase agreements to try to avoid the volatility of natural gas prices.

    "Given the momentum that I see in terms of private-sector leadership and state action makes me very optimistic,” she said. “I am certainly concerned about what could happen at the federal level but I’m optimistic about the states and all of our environmental laws have originated at the state level."



    Photo Credit: Getty Images
    This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.

    Damon Corkern, who works for ECS Solar Energy Systems, Inc, installs a solar panel system on the roof of a home on April 16, 2009 in Gainesville, Florida.Damon Corkern, who works for ECS Solar Energy Systems, Inc, installs a solar panel system on the roof of a home on April 16, 2009 in Gainesville, Florida.

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    Just two years ago, Zion Harvey thought he'd never throw a baseball again. 

    The young boy had lost both his hands and legs after suffering an infection when he was a toddler. Today, a year and a half after he became the world's first child to have a double hand transplant, he says he's a new person.

    NBC News has followed Zion's story each step of the way from his surgery to recovery. All the grueling therapy has paid off, his mother Pattie told NBC News. 

    It has been a whirlwind year in the spotlight for 9-year-old Zion. Support has poured in from all corners.



    Photo Credit: AP

    In this Aug. 23, 2016, photo, Zion Harvey, center, who received a double hand transplant in July 2015, shakes hands with a health care worker as his mother Pattie Ray, left, smiles during a news conference at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in Philadelphia.In this Aug. 23, 2016, photo, Zion Harvey, center, who received a double hand transplant in July 2015, shakes hands with a health care worker as his mother Pattie Ray, left, smiles during a news conference at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in Philadelphia.

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    View daily updates on the best photos in domestic and foreign news.

    Photo Credit: AP

    A Yazidi refugee child is seen through a hole on a wall, in the northern Greek village of Agios Athanasios, near Thessaloniki city, on Dec. 21, 2016. Over 62,000 refugees and other migrants stuck in Greece after a series of Balkan border closures and a European Union deal with Turkey to stop migrant flows.A Yazidi refugee child is seen through a hole on a wall, in the northern Greek village of Agios Athanasios, near Thessaloniki city, on Dec. 21, 2016. Over 62,000 refugees and other migrants stuck in Greece after a series of Balkan border closures and a European Union deal with Turkey to stop migrant flows.

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    Expecting a package today? You're not alone — the U.S. Postal Service expects Thursday to be its busiest day for deliveries all year. 

    Thirty million packages are expected to be dropped off at homes and offices around the country, according to the USPS's projections. That's roughly one package per every 10 people in the United States, and it doesn't account for packages delivered by UPS, FedEx and other shippers. 

    The busiest projected delivery day comes three days after what USPS estimated would be its busiest mailing and shipping day. 

    It all caps off an exceptionally busy holiday period for the nation's post offices. 

    About 16 billion cards, letters and packages were projected to be delivered throughout the holiday season, which stretches from Thanksgiving to New Year's Eve. That includes 750 million packages, up 12 percent from 2015.

    And it's not too late to get a package delivered before Christmas — the last day the USPS recommends you can ship packages by to make sure they arrive by Saturday is Friday, though you'll have to use the Priority Mail Express service.



    Photo Credit: NBC 5 News

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    Low-flying military planes and helicopters spotted over midtown Manhattan last week turned out to be part of a training exercise on safely airlifting the next president out of New York City, law enforcement sources say.

    The Federal Aviation Administration initially said that the U.S. military was conducting authorized flights over New York City last Tuesday with coordination of the federal body. The flyover of two Blackhawk helicopters and the military C-130 caused confusion: the city's Office of Emergency Management said it wasn't notified in advance by the FAA, and the NYPD was only given short notice. 

    Now law enforcement sources tell NBC 4 New York it was all part of a military training exercise -- an emergency relocation drill to figure out where a chopper could touch down near Trump Tower and move the president-elect and others out toward safety. 

    Retired Army Maj. Mike Lyons and a current military analyst says the mission may have also been looking at rooftops in the city that could help as possible evacuation routes.

    "Police and law enforcement have got to be creative as terrorists could be in recognizing that during 9/11 they weren't able to evacuate anyone from the rooftop," he said. "The first thing they are likely looking at is a possibility from Trump Tower."


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