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U.S. reverses Trump effort to quash California vehicle emissions rules

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The Biden administration on Tuesday finalized a reversal of a rule issued under then-U.S. President Donald Trump that sought to pre-empt California’s vehicle emissions regulations.

The Department of Transportation said it was issuing final rules rescinding the Trump action, which sought to bar the most populous state in the nation from setting vehicle rules that might conflict with the federal government’s authority to set Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) requirements.

The program, in place since 1975, sets vehicle fuel efficiency requirements.

“States can now actively pursue solutions to address the climate crisis and environmental challenges in their communities,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement.

About two dozen U.S. states sued to block a pair of Trump actions that sought to remove California from vehicle emissions regulations, while major automakers had backed the effort. The Republican president often clashed with California.

Soon after Democrat Joe Biden was elected president in November 2020, General Motors Co reversed course and opted to no longer back the Trump administration’s effort to bar California from setting its own emissions rules.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) separately has moved to reverse the Trump administration’s 2019 decision to withdraw California’s legal authority to set vehicle emissions rules and set zero-emission vehicle mandates.

The EPA in 2013 granted California a waiver for its tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions and zero-emission vehicle regulations.

A total of 14 states have adopted California’s vehicle-emission rules and 11 have adopted its zero-emission vehicle mandates.

On Monday, the EPA finalized new vehicle emissions requirements through 2026 that reverse Trump’s rollback of car pollution cuts and will speed a U.S. shift to more electric vehicles (EVs). The rule will reduce U.S. gasoline consumption by 15% through 2050, the EPA said, or more than 440 million barrels.

If expressed in miles per gallon (mpg) requirements, the EPA rules would result in real-world average for new cars and trucks of about 40 mpg in 2026, versus 38 mpg under the August proposal and 32 mpg under the Trump rules.

Biden wants 50% of all new vehicles sold in 2030 to be EV or plug-in hybrid models but has not endorsed California’s plan to phase out new gasoline-powered light-duty vehicles by 2035.

The Transportation Department next year is expected to finalize its rewrite of CAFE standards.

 

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Britain’s MI5 spy service warns lawmakers over Chinese agent of influence

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Britain’s domestic spy service MI5 has warned lawmakers that the Chinese Communist Party has been employing a woman to exert improper influence over members of parliament.

MI5 sent out an alert and picture of the woman named Christine Lee on Thursday alleging she was “involved in political interference activities” in the United Kingdom on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

Speaker Lindsay Hoyle, who circulated MI5’s alert to lawmakers, said MI5 had found that Lee “has facilitated financial donations to serving and aspiring parliamentarians on behalf of foreign nationals based in Hong Kong and China“.

Hoyle said Lee had been involved with the now disbanded all-party parliamentary group, Chinese in Britain.

Britain’s interior minister Priti Patel told reporters that Lee’s behaviour was currently below the criminal threshold to prosecute her, but she said that by putting the alert out the government was able to warn lawmakers about Lee’s attempts to improperly influence them.

Patel said it was “deeply concerning” that an individual working on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party had targeted lawmakers.

Lee is the founder of a law firm, which has offices in London and Birmingham, according to a government official. A woman who answered the phone at the Birmingham office said: “We are not taking any calls now”. A request for comment left at the London office went unanswered.

The law firm lists on its website one of its roles as legal adviser to the Chinese embassy in Britain.

The Chinese embassy in London said in a statement that China does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.

“We have no need and never seek to ‘buy influence’ in any foreign parliament,” it said. “We firmly oppose the trick of smearing and intimidation against the Chinese community in the UK.”

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Barry Gardiner, a lawmaker for the opposition Labour Party, said he had received hundreds of thousands of pounds in donations from Lee and said he has been liaising with intelligence services “for a number of years” about her.

“They have always known, and been made fully aware by me, of her engagement with my office and the donations she made to fund researchers in my office in the past,” Gardiner said.

Gardiner employed Lee’s son as a diary manager but he resigned on Thursday.

Iain Duncan Smith, a former leader of Britain’s governing Conservative Party who has been sanctioned by China for highlighting alleged human right abuses in Xinjiang, called for an urgent update from the government on the issue.

He questioned why the woman had not been deported and called for a tightening of the accreditation process for people gaining access to parliament, which he said was too lenient.

Lee is listed under the Christine Lee & Co law firm as a British national in financial filings with Companies House, Britain’s corporate registry.

Former defence minister Tobias Ellwood told parliament of her alleged activity: “This is the sort of grey-zone interference we now anticipate and expect from China.”

Britain’s relations with China have deteriorated in recent years over issues including Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

Last year MI5 urged British citizens to treat the threat of spying from Russia, China and Iran with as much vigilance as terrorism.

British spies say China and Russia have each sought to steal commercially sensitive data and intellectual property as well as to interfere in domestic politics and sow misinformation.

The Chinese ambassador to Britain was banned from attending an event in the British parliament last year because Beijing imposed sanctions on lawmakers who highlighted alleged human right abuses in Xinjiang.

China placed the sanctions on nine British politicians in March last year for spreading what it said were “lies and disinformation” over the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the country’s far west.

(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Christopher Cushing)

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Microsoft board to review sexual harassment, discrimination policies

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Microsoft Corp will review the effectiveness of its sexual harassment and gender discrimination policies and practices in response to a shareholder proposal that passed at its latest annual meeting, the company’s board said on Thursday.

The review will produce a transparency report with results of any sexual harassment investigations in recent years against the company’s directors and senior executives, including allegations that a board committee probe beginning in 2019 involved Bill Gates, the board said.

Data on the number of cases investigated and their resolution is also expected to be part of the review along with steps that have been taken to hold employees, including executives, accountable for sexual harassment or gender discrimination.

Microsoft said last year it conducted a probe into co-founder Bill Gates’ involvement with an employee almost 20 years ago after the company was told in 2019 that he had tried to start a romantic relationship with the person.

Gates stepped down from the Microsoft board in 2020. In previous public comments, a spokesperson for Gates has denied that his departure was linked to the probe.

A request for comment sent to Bill Gates at his Gates Foundation email address was not immediately returned.

Microsoft‘s board said it has hired outside law firm Arent Fox to assist in the review, at the end of which Arent would make public a version of the report detailing its findings and recommendations.

(Reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco and Mehr Bedi in Bangalore; Editing by Richard Chang and Shailesh Kuber)

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Canada opens probe into Tesla’s heating system following consumer complaints

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Canada’s auto safety regulator said on Thursday it has opened an investigation into the heating system of Tesla Model 3 and Model Y vehicles following 16 consumer complaints about its performance during cold weather.

Transport Canada said it is concerned that a malfunctioning heating and air-conditioning system “may affect windshield defogging/defrosting and therefore driver visibility.”

“A company is required to notify Transport Canada and all current owners when they become aware of a defect that could affect the safety of a person. … These notices are commonly referred to as ‘safety recalls,’” it said.

The regulator said it has informed Tesla of the investigation.

Tesla did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. In 2020, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted, “Model Y heat pump is some of the best engineering I’ve seen in a while.”

A number of Tesla owners complained that the heat pumps are failing in extreme cold temperatures, according to Drive Tesla Canada, a Tesla news provider. The report said the heating problems happened even after Tesla early last year replaced faulty sensors in heat pumps in some 2020-2021 Model 3 and Model Y vehicles to address the issue.

The U.S. safety regulator, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, did not have an immediate comment on the issue.

 

(Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin; Additional reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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