You are currently viewing the printable version of this article, to return to the normal page, please click here.

Political Scene

- - Thursday, December 16, 2010

HOUSE

Lawmakers OK bill for louder hybrids

Silent hybrid vehicles may soon be a thing of the past.

Auto safety regulators would have to set minimum sound levels for hybrid and electric vehicles under a bill approved Thursday by the House. Blind pedestrians say the quietness of hybrids can pose risks for them because they use sound cues to travel safely.

Hybrids such as the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight are well-regarded for their high gas mileage, but they are virtually silent when propelled by electric motors at low speeds. With more hybrids and new electric cars coming onto the market, automakers and advocates for the blind have raised concerns about potential safety problems for blind pedestrians.

"The trend toward putting more environmentally friendly, quiet vehicles on the road has unintentionally jeopardized the safety and independence of the blind and other pedestrians," said Rep. Edolphus Towns, New York Democrat.

The House passed the bill 379-30. The Senate approved its version, sponsored by Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, last week, and the measure now goes to President Obama for his signature.

Rep. Cliff Stearns, Florida Republican, said the bill would protect blind pedestrians along with joggers, children and others who need to be alerted to approaching traffic.

Automakers and the National Federation of the Blind support the plan. Car manufacturers have started developing artificial sounds that will be emitted from electric cars and future hybrids.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a research report last year that hybrid vehicles are twice as likely to be involved in pedestrian crashes at low speeds compared with conventional vehicles. The study looked at circumstances in which vehicles were slowing down or stopping, backing up or entering or departing a parking space.

TREASURY

Mortgage holders offered options

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said Thursday the government is trying to keep as many struggling borrowers as possible in their homes in several programs.

Mr. Geithner told a congressional oversight panel that although the Treasury Department's ability to spend new bailout funds for the central foreclosure-prevention effort expired in October, it is running other programs for borrowers in certain situations such as those who are unemployed.

Mr. Geithner testified that the housing market remains weak. He said the government is putting downward pressure on mortgage rates through agreements with finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The government has been buying securities backed by mortgages that are issued by Fannie and Freddie.

"The American financial system today is in a much stronger position than it was before the crisis," Mr. Geithner said.

He said that Treasury's $700 billion rescue program, which came in at the peak of the financial crisis in the fall of 2008, "will rank as one of the most effective crisis-response programs ever implemented."

The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that the program will cost taxpayers about $25 billion. Mr. Geithner noted that is far below early estimates that it would cost $350 billion or more. And he suggested it could end up costing even less than $25 billion.

Of the total $700 billion bailout, $75 billion was earmarked for mortgage assistance programs, including the central foreclosure-prevention effort known as the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP.

ILLINOIS

Emanuel's wife won't be testifying

CHICAGO | Rahm Emanuel's wife won't be subpoenaed to testify as the hearing over residency challenges to his mayoral bid grinds on.

Some of the objectors to Mr. Emanuel's Feb. 22 mayoral bid withdrew their requests to subpoena Amy Rule.

A Chicago Board of Election Commissioners hearing officer also denied a request for a subpoena from another objector who didn't give a good reason why Mrs. Rule should be called to testify.

More than two dozen objectors have challenged Mr. Emanuel's election bid, saying he doesn't meet residency requirements because he lived in Washington for nearly two years working for President Obama.

The hearing officer also denied a request for a field trip to see the treasured family possessions Mr. Emanuel says he left behind in his home when his family joined him in Washington.

SENATE

Lawmaker wants to end EPA rules

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia Thursday said that he would seek a vote before the end of the current congressional session on his bill to postpone Environmental Protection Agency regulation of carbon dioxide emissions for two years.

With EPA regulations due to begin soon on mandating that big factories start cutting pollution blamed for global warming, the Democrat said: "I want to make it clear that I intend to get a vote this year on my EPA-suspension legislation."

The economy of West Virginia is heavily reliant on coal, which emits high levels of carbon dioxide when burned to fuel electric utilities and factories.

Industry has complained that the EPA regulations would be costly to implement and would raise consumer energy prices.

In January, EPA is scheduled to give the green light to regulations, long under development, requiring utilities, factories and other big polluters to get permits for the carbon dioxide they emit.

EPA also would require plants to use best available technology when expanding or building new facilities.

EPA's moves toward regulating carbon come after Congress failed this year to pass comprehensive legislation controlling greenhouse-gas emissions that contribute to global climate change problems.

Earlier this year, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, proposed a permanent ban on EPA regulation of carbon, a move that failed on a 53-47 vote.

FDA

Avastin not suitable for breast cancer

Federal health authorities are recommending the blockbuster drug Avastin no longer be used to treat breast cancer, saying recent studies failed to show the drug's original promise to help slow the disease.

The Food and Drug Administration's decision is supported by many cancer experts, but is sure to draw resistance from cancer patients and some doctors who fiercely defend the drug and say it should remain available.

The FDA approved Avastin for breast cancer in 2008 based on studies suggesting it halted the spread of breast cancer for more than five months. But follow-up studies showed that delay lasted no more than three months, and patients suffered dangerous side effects.

Doctors will still be able to prescribe the drug "off-label," though some insurers may not pay for it.