Thursday

General Motors Suspends Two Engineers Due to Ignition Switch Controversy

GM’s internal investigation leads to first disciplinary action over delayed recall of defective ignition switches. General Motors said today it suspended two engineers with pay as part of its internal investigation of its failure for more than a decade to recall the defective switches in Chevrolet Cobalts and other small cars. Chief Executive Mary Barra said the two employees were placed on leave after a briefing with Anton Valukas, an ex-U.S. attorney hired to investigate the switch problems, which GM has linked to 13 deaths. “This is an interim step as we seek the truth about what happened,” Barra said in a statement. Separately, GM has asked NASA to provide a team to verify that the recalled cars can safely be driven. Barra also announced in a town hall session with workers a whistleblower-style program called “Speak Up for Safety.” The New York Times, USA Today

Even as toll mounts from harmful dietary supplements, Congress fails to act. A dietary supplement named OxyElite Pro is still apparently making people sick, more than a year after Hawaii health officials were alerted to seven cases of acute hepatitis and liver failure among its users. OxyElite Pro has been recalled, but nothing will prevent another supplement from bringing about a similar toll. That hasn’t inspired Congress to revisit what is perhaps its deadliest deregulatory initiative ever: the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, or DSHEA. As a Harvard expert put it in a recent piece for the New England Journal of Medicine, the law essentially requires the Food and Drug Administration to assume that dietary supplements are safe until proved otherwise, at which point it’s often too late. Los Angeles Times

Spurred by fiery derailments, U.S. regulators to push changes for trains carrying oil. The Federal Railroad Administration said it will propose rules requiring trains transporting crude to have at least two crew members. The agency, sometime this summer, also plans to formally propose changes to prevent parked train cars from coming loose and causing an accident such as the one last July in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, that killed 47 people. While existing rules don’t address how many crew members freight trains must have, the general practice among the largest freight railroads is a minimum of two. Regional and short-line railroads use one-person crews more often. The Association of American Railroads, which represents the freight rail industry, signaled its opposition, saying regulators haven’t shown that two-person crews are safer. The Associated Press, Bloomberg

Study finds that U.S. regulations for biomass plants are riddled with loopholes. The study, by the Massachusetts-based Partnership for Policy Integrity, says the loopholes allow wood-burning plants to spew more toxic emissions into the air than coal-fired power operations. The findings are fueling controversy over whether biomass should be treated as a renewable energy fuel and qualify for federal incentives, or as a fossil fuel like coal. According to the study, biomass plants release as much as 50 percent more carbon dioxide than coal plants per megawatt-hour, and as much as double the amount of other air pollutants. Biomass plant emissions “could be dramatically improved,” said the study’s author. Biomass, which is mainly wood chips, forest debris and waste, is considered renewable power by the Department of Energy. InsideClimate News

Indiana auto glass factory to pay $495,500 to settle charges of failing to make safety fixes after workplace death. The Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration said the penalties in the settlement with the Pilkington North America plant in Shelbyville, Ind., are a record for the agency. Pilkington must post warning signs on or near hazards, provide training for employees and dedicate staff to eliminate all remaining hazards, state officials said. The plant was investigated after Kelly Dean Caudill, 56, a 19-year veteran at Pilkington, was fatally crushed in 2010 while repairing a conveyor. State officials issued several orders to Pilkington to correct safety issues, but a follow-up inspection in early 2012 found that violations persisted. Pilkington makes glass for such automakers as Honda, Toyota and General Motors. The Associated Press

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

 

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