Thursday Briefing

U.S. to order two of Utah’s oldest coal-fired power plants to curb air pollution fouling national parks. The Environmental Protection Agency is acting because of smog that has drastically reduced visibility across an area including five national parks. The EPA order, stemming from the agency’s rejection of parts of a Utah haze-reduction plan as too lenient, forces state officials to determine the “best available technology” for reducing smog-forming nitrogen oxides at coal-fired plants operated by PacifiCorp. The company said it already is upgrading pollution controls and plans more improvements by 2014 that will bring the plants into compliance with the new requirements. The Associated Press

Efforts advance in Kansas and Missouri to curb smoking bans. In Kansas, which banned smoking in most private businesses in 2010, a House committee approved a bill that would allow people to light up in bars. In Missouri, a state representative has proposed legislation to prohibit cities and counties from banning smoking in establishments where at least 60 percent of retail sales come from alcohol, tobacco or entertainment. It likely would broaden exemptions for bars, bowling alleys, bingo halls, billiard parlors and movie theaters from smoke-free ordinances. Given that the legislative sessions in both states will end soon, however, the prospects for passage of the current proposal appear slim. St. Louis Post Dispatch, The Kansas City Star

Key provisions of landmark food-safety bill bog down. The delay at the Office of Management and Budget, an arm of the White House that reviews policy changes, baffles consumer advocates and industry groups. They eventually joined forces to lobby for passage of the legislation, which President Obama signed into law early in 2011. “There’s no explanation for the hold-up,” said Erik Olson, director of food programs at the Pew Health Group, which co-wrote a recent letter of complaint to the Obama administration with the Grocery Manufacturers Association. “Until this new package of safeguards is put into place, all the promise of the new food-safety law will not be met.” The Washington Post

Obama administration proposals to relax export restrictions on high-powered firearms and other weapons draw flak. U.S. homeland security and law enforcement officials have warned that the moves could help arm drug cartels and terrorists and make it harder for the U.S. to crack down on gun-trafficking. The weapons proposal is part of a broader overhaul of U.S. export rules sought by Obama. The goals are to help domestic manufacturers compete in global markets and improve U.S. national security by focusing controls on higher-risk items and enhancing the capabilities of allies. The Wall Street Journal

More than 1 in 10 babies born worldwide every year are premature. A report by the World Health Organization and other agencies found that most of those 15 million preemies are born in Africa and Asia, but the problem is serious in the U.S., too, where about a half-million babies are born too soon every year. That amounts to 1 in 8 U.S. births –  a higher rate than in Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan and a number of less developed countries. Experts can’t fully explain why the U.S. preemie rate is so much worse than similar high-income countries, but one likely cause is limited prenatal care. Among the world’s premature babies, 1.1 million die every year, and others suffer lifelong disabilities. The Associated Press

Report finds surge in road deaths in developing countries. The assessment by the International Transport Forum counted 1.3 million deaths from road crashes during 2010 in the 32 countries it surveyed. Another 50 million people were injured, with 9 out of 10 victims coming from low- and middle-income countries. Cambodia, for instance, showed a four-fold increase in traffic deaths over the last decade. At the same time, several better-off countries, including the U.S., recorded substantial reductions in deaths. A separate report, from the Campaign for Global Road Safety, characterized road safety as one of the greatest challenges in developing countries. Transportation Nation, The Guardian

Worker’s death in trench cave-in leads to five safety citations against Wisconsin company. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration said that Gordy’s Pump Service of River Falls, Wis., failed to provide required cave-in protection at a trench in Spring Valley, Wis. that collapsed in November. A 19-year-old worker died in the accident. The agency proposed penalties of $137,000 and put the company in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which focuses on recalcitrant employers. Separately, OSHA accused Stillion Brothers Excavation of Perrysburg, Ohio of similar violations and proposed penalties of $72,820. Hudson Star-Observer, OSHA

Recalls: Henry’s Farm Inc. natto soybean sprouts

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

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