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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > The California Emission Experiment

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its Administrator, William Ruckelshaus, are beginning final consideration of the domestic motor vehicle manufacturers’ request for a one year suspension of the 1975 carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons motor vehicle emission standards. If EPA gives in, most large cities including Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, New York, and Phoenix will be forced to impose additional transportational controls such as gasoline rationing to reach the health related ambient air quality standards by 1975.

In an effort to meet the 1975 standards with the old reciprocating piston internal combustion engine, the domestic manufacturers plan to add on emission controls such as catalytic converters which will add a highly profitable $138.20 to the sticker price of 1975 vehicles according to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Although both the NAS and the domestic manufacturers say that the companies will be able to certify their vehicles for production, the manufacturers contend the emission controls will fail in consumer usage and that there will be assembly problems that will stop production (Last year the big three domestic manufacturers said they would be shut down at the beginning of the 1975 model year rather than during it).

In stark contrast, foreign manufacturers have developed three alternatives to the old internal combustion engine that are cheaper, more durable and can meet the 1975 standards–carbureted stratified charge engine (Honda), rotary engine equipped with a thermal reactor (Mazda) and diesel engine (Mercedes). The stratified charge and diesel engines already have better fuel economy than the modified internal combustion engine while the rotary engine has good potential for fuel economy savings due to decreased engine and vehicle weight.

Faced with this documentation of technological feasibility, the domestic manufacturers have pulled out a trial balloon to get a suspension concession from EPA– catalysts for only California in 1975. The domestic manufacturers claim catalysts should be phased-in in California only to see if they work in consumer usage and to avoid alleged production line problems if all domestic 1975 vehicles required catalysts.

The speciousness of this proposal was unveiled when the auto manufacturers testified under oath that they had not discussed their proposal with either the Califronia air pollution authorities or the catalyst manufacturers. When asked about the California only proposal, Universal Oil Products (UOP) which will supply catalysts to both Chrysler and General Motors stated, “The cost of the unit at one-tenth of production capacity [California only market] would be horrible. Just horrible.” Pressed for more precise figures by EPA,

UOP stated that the unit cost would be 3 or 4 times as great. Since catalytic converters are currently estimated to cost about $50 per vehicle, a California only system according to UOP could mean Californians would pay about $150 to $200 for the converter alone with an additional $70 for the rest of the emission control system.

Citizens of the other 49 states would also suffer if the California only ploy succeeds, for 1975 vehicles would have higher emissions in these states requiring additional transportational controls. Mayor Lindsay told Administrator Ruckelshaus “the consequences [of suspension] could include complete ban of private cars and gas rationing for commercial vehicles. Such consequences could destroy our economy.”

If Administrator Ruckelshaus concedes a suspension to the auto manufacturers, he must find that the manufacturers made all good faith efforts to meet the standards. A good faith finding would boggle the mind,for the domestic manufacturers are the ones who conspired from at least as early as 1953 to restrain the development and marketing of auto companies exhaust control systems. The same/who could not do what little Honda, Mercedes-Benz and
Toyo Kogyo did — develop a cheaper, low-polluting alternative engine. These are the same big four domestic companies who installed emission control defeat devices on at least their 1973 model vehicles systems to destruction or who tested incomplete emission control systems so that EPA would be faced with incomplete data with which to evaluate emission control systems.

Administrator Ruckelshaus [Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C. 20460] has heard a great deal from industry; he deserves to receive more mail from citizens concerned over the appalling foot-dragging of the domestic auto companies.