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Government Report Exonerating Toyota Was Flawed, Says Watchdog Group

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TOYOTA ACCELERATION
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Welcome to "The Watchdog," which will keep a close eye on regulatory agencies and how their actions impact the lives of everyday Americans. Though the rules and regulations they write -- from determining how much arsenic is allowable in your drinking water to whether your favorite TV show can drop the F-bomb in primetime -- affect all of us, their deliberations and the way that lobbyists influence their decisions receive very little coverage. To make sense of these debates, follow the implementation of health care and financial reform and decipher the minutia of the Federal Register, "The Watchdog" is on the case. If you have any tips, send them to marcus@huffingtonpost.com.

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Mine operator Pine Ridge waited four days -- rather than the required 15 minutes -- to notify federal regulators about a roof collapse at its Big Mountain Number 16 mine in Boome County, W.Va., according to a release by the U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration.

The agency was only notified after the collapse was discovered by an MSHA inspector and the violation cited. The delay was unreasonable, ruled an administrative law judge, given that the accident "required the operator to abandon the mine entry altogether and to block off access to prevent travel through that section of the mine. The judge also held that the roof fall had impaired ventilation and had impeded passage in the mine. In addition, the judge tripled the penalty proposed by MSHA, requiring the operator to pay ,000 for the violations," according to an MSHA release.

"The Mine Act requires prompt notification of roof collapses because they can be dangerous and have significant impact on the health and safety of miners," said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "Operators must take seriously their reporting obligations, and when they don’t, must deal with the consequences."

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A recent report by federal regulators exonerating Toyota's electronics as the cause of numerous unintended acceleration complaints was flawed and "heavily influenced by Toyota," according to a safety watchdog group.

Soon after a California highway patrolman and his family died in a 2009 high-speed crash involving a runaway Lexus, it was revealed that drivers had made 3,000 complaints about unintended acceleration in the past decade -- 93 of which included deaths. In the wake of the crash, Toyota recalled about 6 million vehicles, its executives were dragged in front of Congress to testify at contentious hearings and it paid almost million in fines.

But a government investigation into whether the sudden-acceleration problems were tied to electronic flaws found no such link -– though a National Academy of Sciences review is due by the end of the year.

Toyota felt exonerated by the February report, issuing a statement to express its hope that "this important study will put to rest unsupported speculation about Toyota’s (electronic control system), which is well-designed and well-tested to ensure that a real world, uncommanded acceleration of the vehicle cannot occur."

Safety Research and Strategies, which provides research and analysis of motor vehicle and product safety issues, today published a report critical of the government after an extensive review of documents recently released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the NASA Engineering and Safety Center. The report claims to show how malfunctions in Toyota's electronics can cause unintended acceleration in vehicles.

Among its other findings:

• The NASA report found scenarios in which an engine speed can be increased, RPMs can surge and "the throttle can be opened to various degrees in contradiction to the driver's command," contradicting Toyota's main defense in previous investigations of unintended acceleration.

• The government reports were not "the products of independent and disinterested investigators. They have been directed by an agency that has exonerated Toyota's electronics in the past and has relied solely on the automaker's representations… Toyota was heavily involved in guiding the research of both reports."

A spokesperson for the Department of Transportation did not return a request for comment from The Huffington Post.

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• Despite bearing responsibility for the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster, Massey "has not changed the manner in which it operates its mines" and most executives are staying on at the company.

• "As the U.S. government steps up investigations of companies suspected of paying bribes overseas, law enforcement officials are leaving much of the detective work to the very corporations under suspicion. The probes are so costly and wide-ranging that the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission often let the companies investigate themselves and then share the results," reports the Washington Post.

• The Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not have an adequate system in place for the inspection of nuclear spent fuel storage sites, according to the agency's inspector general.

The week in financial regulatory reform, as helpfully compiled by the folks at the Center for Public Integrity.

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