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Regulatory News Update

The consumer watchdog group Public Citizen has petitioned the FDA to require stronger warning labels on popular cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins. The group says such drugs have killed 81 people. The proposed warnings would tell consumers to quit taking the medicine at the first sign of muscle pain or weakness. The FDA says it will consider the request, but disputes the group's death count--saying only 18 deaths are linked to the five statins now on the U.S. market--Lipitor, Mevacor, Pravachol, Zocor and Lescol. The agency recently took another statin--Baycol--off the market after linking it with 31 deaths.

Two Senators--Barbara Boxer (D-Cal.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)--are blocking Senate confirmation of Donald Schregardus to head the EPA's enforcement office. Schumer says the move is aimed at dissuading the EPA from scaling back air pollution standards for power plants that are being modernized. The senator says he will also try to delay the Schregardus nomination until the EPA outlines its plans for improving air quality in the Northeast. The White House criticized the move--with spokeswoman Anne Womack telling THE NEW YORK TIMES: "Confirmation should be based upon the qualifications of the nominee--not on the narrow agenda of two members of the Senate." Schregardus--the former chief of Ohio's EPA--was approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Aug.1.

At the request of the EPA, Jaguar is recalling more than 3,500 cars that may not meet clean air emission standards. The recall affects 1994-1995 models of the XJ12 and XJS with a 6.0 liter V12 engine. Most of the cars are being recalled for a failure in the oxygen sensor circuit, which ensures that the correct amount of fuel and air are burned when the engine is running. Dealers will fix the cars for free.

The Transportation Department plans to require airlines to report not only how many flights were delayed or canceled, but to specify the reasons. In a letter to Chairman Harold Rogers of the House Appropriations transportation subcommittee, a department official said the information would then be released to the public on the Internet. Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson said the department hopes to announce the proposal in November and issue a final rule by mid-April, after seeking public comments. Jackson told the chairman that the major airlines have agreed to provide the data: "Cooperation by the airline industry has been excellent."

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has announced that World Industries of Huntington Beach, California, is recalling about 10,000 skateboard helmets. While there were no reports of injuries involving the helmets, the protective gear failed agency standards for impact testing. The helmets--which sold for about $40--came in black, blue and white. They were sold from October 2000 through May 2001. The CPSC warns that consumers "should stop using these helmets immediately and return them to the stores where purchased for a full refund."

THE WASHINGTON POST has begun a three-part series of articles on the effects of deregulation in the electricity industry. The first article, which ran Aug. 21, concluded that, so far, deregulating utility monopolies "has created more problems than benefits, raising fears that other states could suffer California-style energy trouble."

By Don Fulsom, former UPI White House reporter.