Morning news brief
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Hundreds of thousands of passengers all over the country have seen their flights on Southwest delayed or canceled. And the airline is still canceling flights right at the peak of the busy holiday season.
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
Tuesday night, Southwest's CEO, Bob Jordan, issued a video pleading with frustrated travelers and frustrated Southwest employees for patience.
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BOB JORDAN: We're doing everything we can to return to a normal operation. And please also hear that I'm truly sorry.
FADEL: Kyle Arnold covers aviation for The Dallas Morning News, and he's been following this story. Good morning, Kyle.
KYLE ARNOLD: Thanks for having me.
FADEL: So, Kyle, how many flights has Southwest canceled at this point?
ARNOLD: Up to this point, it's been more than 13,000. And now it's looking at about 2,500 a day, you know, indefinitely until they can get this figured out.
FADEL: So what is happening? What is Southwest saying caused all this?
ARNOLD: Well, there was a weather issue late last week, if you remember, that really swept through some of the big key airports in Chicago and Denver. But we've seen this at - or with airlines, you know, over the last year and a half, is that when they have these events, they kind of have this crew meltdown where they can't get their planes and pilots and flight attendants in the right places. And when the meltdowns are big enough, they escalate, and they cascade, and they get bigger and bigger over the next few days until the airlines finally have enough slack that they can kind of reset and get everybody back in the right place.
FADEL: But we aren't seeing anywhere near this number of cancellations at other airlines who were also affected by that weather issue. So what's different about Southwest?
ARNOLD: Well, Southwest has blamed, for one, the position of those - the two big hubs that they hit are really important airports. But second, there's a big technology gap that Southwest has blamed. They just - when these things happen, the systems melt down. It's like a puzzle. That's what Bob Jordan said. And it's like a puzzle that they're doing blind because they don't know where a lot of people are at this point, flight attendants and pilots. They're calling people. They're showing up at airports and calling out names and taking roll of who is where because the system is so out of date.
FADEL: Now, the Department of Transportation tweeted that it will look into what it called Southwest's unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays and reports of lack of prompt customer service. But what can the DOT actually do?
ARNOLD: Well, they can force Southwest Airlines to give refunds on a lot of these flights. And there's always some contention here whether these were weather-related. I think it's pretty clear that after the first day or two, it wasn't weather-related. But the industry is very wary of additional regulation. And that's what the Biden administration has brought and has threatened over the last year or so since coming out of the pandemic. Those regulations add costs to customers and the airlines and lower the profit margins.
FADEL: Now, what's the airline saying about how it intends to make things right for the hundreds of thousands of passengers affected?
ARNOLD: It's really hard to make everything right at this point. A lot of people have had their holidays ruined, their vacations upended. They've promised to reimburse reasonable expenses for rental cars, for getting flights on other airlines, for hotels and things like that. But when you've lost a, you know, very important holiday season like this and - you just can't get it back.
FADEL: Yeah, you can't really get back memories that you missed, huh? Kyle Arnold of The Dallas Morning News, thank you so much for all your time.
ARNOLD: Thank you.
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FADEL: The Supreme Court has ruled that the Trump-era border policy known as Title 42 will remain in place for now.
MARTÍNEZ: The statute, enacted at the height of the COVID pandemic, allows immigration authorities to turn migrants back without a chance to claim asylum. Immigration advocates say it denies them human rights protections. Lee Gelernt is with the ACLU and an attorney on the case.
LEE GELERNT: What the CDC said is there is no longer a public health justification, and the statute on which they were relying allows them only to stop people at the border if there's a public health justification. It cannot be used as a border management tool.
FADEL: For more on what this means, we're joined by Hamed Aleaziz, immigration policy reporter with the LA Times. Good morning.
HAMED ALEAZIZ: Good morning.
FADEL: So what does this ruling mean in practical terms?
ALEAZIZ: Yeah, it means that the status quo at the border remains. This policy that's been in place for almost three years now continues. And migrants who have been waiting at the border in Mexico for a chance to seek asylum will have to wait longer.
FADEL: And if you could just break down, for those hoping to seek asylum, what that means - they just sit at the border?
ALEAZIZ: Yeah, well, it's complicated. For certain populations, their chances of asylum were lower under Title 42. Central Americans, for example, have been turned back at the border at high levels. Venezuelans have been turned back to Mexico in recent months. For these groups, seeking asylum has been incredibly difficult.
FADEL: How did this end up before the Supreme Court?
ALEAZIZ: Well, a federal judge in November ruled that the policy was arbitrary and capricious, and he ordered the government to undo Title 42 within five weeks, which was December 21. And a group of 19 GOP states tried to intervene in this case, and they asked for a stay with the Supreme Court, hoping to pause this policy while they hope to intervene in the case. And now the Supreme Court's going to be taking those arguments in February.
FADEL: And how does the court's decision now affect the Biden administration immigration policy overall?
ALEAZIZ: Yeah, it means that they just continue to have to use Title 42. Earlier this year, they tried to actually undo Title 42, but a judge in Louisiana said that the way they had gone about trying to undo Title 42 was illegal and blocked them from doing that. And they had to continue Title 42, the use of it. They actually expanded it, as I mentioned previously, by using it on Venezuelans - turned back Venezuelans to Mexico. So the administration now has to continue using this Trump-era policy for the time being, potentially into the summer.
FADEL: So it's not something they can just decide not to implement.
ALEAZIZ: Not at this point, no. They are bound by that order by the federal court judge in Louisiana, forcing them to continue using Title 42. That case is winding its way through the Fifth Circuit. There are so many twists and turns with this policy at the border. It's incredibly confusing, and there's lack of clarity at times, which is, I think, incredibly distressing to folks in the government and I'm sure to migrants across the border.
FADEL: Hamed Aleaziz is an immigration policy reporter with the LA Times. Thank you so much for your time.
ALEAZIZ: Thank you.
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FADEL: Republicans are going to control the House of Representatives in 2023. They plan to use their majority to investigate environmental, social and governance investing.
MARTÍNEZ: It's known as ESG, and it's at the center of a debate over how businesses that control trillions of dollars should respond to climate change.
FADEL: Michael Copley is with NPR's Climate Desk, and he's following the issue. Hi, Michael.
MICHAEL COPLEY, BYLINE: Hey, Leila.
FADEL: OK, so I think people have started to hear this acronym, ESG, more and more. But what exactly are we talking about here?
COPLEY: Yeah, I think it gets misunderstood or mischaracterized by supporters and opponents. And what we're talking about is the practice of evaluating risks and opportunities related to environmental, social and governance issues that companies face. The big one right now is climate change. And so the idea is if you can identify the risks and opportunities related to climate change that different companies face, you can find better long-term investments.
FADEL: OK, so what does that look like in practice?
COPLEY: The example I hear a lot is if you're investing in beachfront property in South Florida, what are you doing to deal with the threat of rising sea levels? If you're investing in a fossil fuel company, what is it doing to deal with the risk of stricter environmental regulations or competition from stuff like electric vehicles and renewable energy? Now, supporters will say ESG isn't perfect, that investors need better data and that some companies have overpromised and under-delivered on their commitments, but that at its core, it's about putting a price tag on risk to help investors decide whether they think companies are making good decisions.
FADEL: OK, so Republicans don't think investors should be making those sort of calculations?
COPLEY: I think what we're seeing is that Republicans will often characterize ESG as an attempt to impose liberal or so-called woke policies, with the main goal of kind of killing off the fossil fuel industry. Lawmakers in Texas held a hearing on ESG investing in December. Texas has been leading the charge against ESG, and so the hearing did feel like a preview of what we might see from Republicans in Congress.
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BOB HALL: I think this issue of ESG is something that has floated underneath the radar way too long. And I think it's probably one of the existential threats to our economy here in Texas and in the U.S.
COPLEY: That's Bob Hall, a Republican state senator in Texas. And, you know, we've heard similar comments from Republicans in Congress. ESG has been described as this cancer within the U.S. economy.
FADEL: I mean, that's really strong words. Are the political attacks having an impact on where money is being invested or the questions investors are asking?
COPLEY: You know, I think a lot of big investors genuinely see climate change as a real financial threat. And I don't think these attacks have changed that. Now, what it could do is have a chilling effect on the kinds of positions that companies are willing to take publicly. I spoke to Witold Henisz, the faculty director of the ESG Initiative at the Wharton Business School.
WITOLD HENISZ: I think there is a risk of less vocal leadership, and that can have real-world and tangible impacts, particularly on something that is, you know, an essential threat like climate.
COPLEY: Henisz says leadership is important here because dealing with climate change is going to require bold action, and the threat of political blowback could make companies less willing to do big, ambitious stuff to deal with this complicated problem.
FADEL: So how are supporters of ESG responding?
COPLEY: Some want to see companies and investors do a better job of explaining just what it is. They think if ESG is explained in concrete terms, voters will see it as a reasonable way to approach investing. They're also trying to show that these attacks are part of a long-running effort to keep the U.S. from taking action to deal with climate change.
FADEL: NPR climate correspondent Michael Copley, thanks.
COPLEY: Thanks, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.