Toyota to Pay $1.2 Billion to Settle a U.S. Criminal Probe Over Concealing Sudden Acceleration Problems

In one of the largest settlements ever paid by an automaker, Toyota admits to wrongdoing. Officials today announced that Toyota reached a $1.2 billion settlement with U.S. authorities to resolve a four-year criminal investigation into whether the company misled investigators and the public about a sudden-acceleration defect that caused injuries and deaths. “Toyota’s conduct was shameful,” U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said at a morning news conference, adding that the company “intentionally concealed information.” Toyota agreed to cooperate with an independent monitor who will oversee the company’s public statements and regulatory reporting about safety issues. The agreement stems from the unintended acceleration of Toyota vehicles, a problem that triggered recalls of about 9.4 million vehicles. The New York Times

China deploys drones to spy on polluting industries. The tactic is part of the nation’s effort to battle the lung-choking smog that frequently engulfs its biggest cities. The deputy minister of environmental protection said drones have recently been used in Beijing, Shanxi and Hebei provinces, some of the most polluted areas of China and home to many coal-fired power stations, steel mills and cement plants. While the drones are mainly used to gather evidence about environmental problems, they are also employed to evaluate the performance of local governments in enforcing environmental rules. Separately, China’s largest online travel agency began offering insurance to compensate tourists with complaints about the haze and smog they encounter on their trips to the country. The Guardian, China Daily

Leading U.S. scientific society, making a rare entry into policy debate, sounds alarm on global warming. The American Association for the Advancement of Science issued a report urging the nation to act swiftly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lower the risks of leaving a climate catastrophe for future generations. “As scientists, it is not our role to tell people what they should do,” the report said. “But we consider it our responsibility as professionals to ensure, to the best of our ability, that people understand what we know: human-caused climate change is happening, we face risks of abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes, and responding now will lower the risks and costs of taking action.” Separately, the White House announced the launch of a website,, to serve as a one-stop location for climate data. The Guardian, Los Angeles Times

Society of Environmental Journalists blasts EPA for dodging reporters’ questions. Two leaders of the group, in an opinion piece, faulted the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to live up to the pledge by the agency’s chief, Gina McCarthy, “to be as transparent as we can.” The writers cited “communication delays,” with journalists frequently “waiting for days and in some cases weeks to get EPA to respond to routine requests for information or interviews.” In particular, the writers criticized the EPA for letting nearly a week pass after this year’s massive chemical spill into a West Virginia river “before anyone with EPA would speak, even briefly” with a reporter for The Charleston (W. Va.) Gazette. “With the water supply of 300,000 worried people contaminated,” they added, “why did it take days longer for follow-up information to be supplied?” Greenwire

Despite bans in the U.S. and European Union, asbestos production keeps surging. Figures for 2012 show that international exports of asbestos increased 20 percent. Today, the construction material is still used widely in many parts of Asia, Eastern Europe and South America, while even in the U.S. and Canada, controlled use is allowed. That is the case even though the World Health Organization estimates that 107,000 people die every year due to occupational exposure to asbestos. An assessment finds that asbestos use continues because of “scientific deception and betrayal, greed, political collusion, the power of propaganda, and, above all, the willingness of some executives to knowingly subject hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people around the world to severe illness and even death in the pursuit of profit.” New Statesman

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

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