Rules Unveiled to Lower Sulfur Emissions From U.S. Gasoline

Major new regulation aims to cut smog and respiratory disease. The rules unveiled today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will force oil refiners to reduce sulfur — a smog-forming pollutant linked to health problems such as asthma and emphysema, as well as heart disease and premature births — in U.S. gasoline blends. When burned in gasoline, sulfur blocks vehicle engines’ pollution-control equipment, increasing tailpipe emissions. Proponents of the rules, which have been years in the making, say it will be President Obama’s most significant public health achievement in his second term. Opponents, chiefly oil refining companies that will have to install expensive new equipment, say it imposes an unfair burden on them. The rules are to be fully implemented by 2025. The New York Times, USA Today

Aviation regulators call for cockpit-automation fixes on nearly 500 Boeing 737s. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is seeking to prevent pilot errors that over the years have caused fatal crashes of several jet and turboprop airliners. The FAA’s proposed directive, which is being formally released today for public comment, aims to ensure that pilots of 737-600 models and later versions have adequate safeguards if airspeed drops dangerously low, particularly during landing approaches. Foreign regulators are expected to follow the FAA’s lead in demanding changes to parts of the aircraft’s flight-control computers, likely affecting another 700 or more of the widely used 737s. Boeing previously recommended the changes, but the FAA wants to make them mandatory. The Wall Street Journal

Food and Drug Administration launches review of the way it ensures the safety and use of over-the-counter drugs.  The review will include drugs taken by hundreds of millions of Americans, including acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol. Despite more than 40 years of work, the FDA has yet to finalize rules for the safe use of acetaminophen, hobbled, in part, by the cumbersome system for regulating non-prescription drugs. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage and death in amounts close to the current recommended daily limit. About 150 people die each year from accidentally taking too much, and tens of thousands of others are rushed to emergency rooms or hospitalized. FDA officials have complained that the system in place since the early 1970s, called the monograph process, is too slow to adjust to emerging issues. ProPublica

North Carolina’s environmental watchdog agency is called a pushover. Current and former state regulators say North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources, once among the most aggressive in the Southeast, has been transformed under Gov. Pat McCrory into a weakling that plays down science and suffers from politicized decision-making. The agency has come under the spotlight since early February when the nation’s largest utility, Duke Energy, spilled 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River. U.S. prosecutors have begun a criminal investigation into the spill and the relations between Duke and regulators at the state environmental agency. Amid the increasing scrutiny and criticism, the department said Duke would be cited for violating environmental standards in connection with the spill. The New York Times

Severe injuries to three workers lead to eight charges and proposed fines of $560,000 against Houston manufacturer. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s charges against Custom Rubber Products, a supplier to the oil and gas industry, were all willful violations, the agency’s most serious offense. OSHA launched its investigation in September after learning that a machine operator’s arms were crushed by equipment at the company’s Houston plant. OSHA investigators discovered that two other workers at the plant previously suffered severe injuries while working on similar machinery. The agency said Custom exposed workers to life-threatening injuries by failing to install safety guards on equipment. “There is no excuse for failing to provide them,” OSHA’s chief said, noting that, “In an instant, moving machine parts can crush workers or amputate fingers or limbs.” OSHA, Houston Chronicle

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein


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