Panel: Redesign blowout preventers

NEW YORK - Blowout preventers, which are supposed to seal off an oil well in an emergency, must be redesigned to prevent failures like the one last year at BP's Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, a technical panel said in its final report.

The U.S. government and the energy industry had "misplaced trust" in the ability of blowout preventers to act as fail-safe mechanisms, a committee of the National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council said.

The valve systems, which stand atop deepwater wells, were not designed or tested for the conditions that existed when the Macondo well exploded in April 2010, the report said. That blowout killed 11 workers aboard Transocean Ltd.'s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, causing it to sink and resulting in the biggest offshore U.S. oil spill in history. - Bloomberg News

2 tobacco firms settle with Justice

RICHMOND, Va. - The nation's two biggest tobacco companies, Philip Morris USA Inc. and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., have agreed to pay $6.25 million to support the country's largest online collection of internal tobacco-industry documents, the Justice Department said Wednesday.

The settlement resolves a dispute over a document database that a federal judge mandated in 2006 when she ruled that the companies had masked the dangers of smoking.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler said the companies were trying to deceive people about the health effects of smoking and nicotine addiction and about marketing to youth. The database, run by the University of California, San Francisco, mostly contains documents disclosed during lawsuits against the companies. The court must still approve the settlement. - AP

Snowy Utah is site of mass bird crash

ST. GEORGE, Utah - Thousands of migratory birds were killed or injured after apparently mistaking a Wal-Mart parking lot, football fields, and other snow-covered areas of southern Utah for bodies of water and plummeting to the ground in what one state wildlife expert called the worst mass bird crash she had ever seen.

Crews went to work cleaning up the dead birds and rescuing the injured survivors after Monday night's crash-landing.

By midday Wednesday, volunteers had helped rescue more than 3,000 birds. There was no count on how many died, though officials estimate it is upwards of 1,500. Officials say stormy conditions probably confused the flock of eared grebes, a duck-like aquatic bird probably making its way to the Mexican coast for the winter. - AP

Elsewhere:

President Obama will deliver his State of the Union address to Congress on Jan. 24.

Two former health inspectors have been accused of accepting bribes in exchange for passing hundreds of restaurants on food-safety exams in San Francisco, officials said.

North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue, a Democrat, halted a GOP effort to dismantle a 2009 state law that gives death-row inmates a new way to argue that racial bias influenced their sentences. Prosecutors who pushed for repeal said the law was clogging the courts with new appeals.