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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > The Ford Follies

WASHINGTON–The Ford Motor Company is on the campaign trail to break the will of Congress and weaken the Clean Air Act of 1970. Offering lavish food and drink, Ford executives have been inviting business and civic leaders in city after city to luxurious luncheons preceded by press conferences and followed by speeches against this federal law and its 1975 and 1976 auto pollution control standards.

The gala luncheon at the Portland (Oregon) Hilton last June was a typical affair. Some 200 of Portland’s more prominent citizens were invited to a $20 per person culinary extravaganza. Two musicians, a violinist and an accordionist, circulated through the crowd playing soft music while the guests sipped not so soft drinks. Expensive hors d’oeuvres graced the arms of waiters passing through the gathering.

At the center of each table was a stack of cigars and at each place setting was a card listing the names and addresses of each Oregonian Congressman and Senator. Filet mignon and dear French wine added a regal quality to the setting.

Thomas J. Feaheny, general manager of Ford’s engine division, tried to inform those present that the auto industry was trying hard but that it was useless to have to meet standards which “are unrealistic, will prove to be unnecessarily costly to car buyers, and are not justified by need.”

Californians who remember the auto company line on pollution and smog in the Fifties will recognize the same old tune. So will the Justice Department lawyers who wanted to prosecute the four domestic auto q’ampanies for a fifteen year conspiracy against cleaning up car exhausts but had to settle out of court in 1969 on orders from their political superiors. And so will many Americans who are wondering how two tiny Japanese auto companies (Honda and Toyo Kogyo)easily passed the federal government’s 1975 standards–the same standards which the giant corporations in Detroit said could not be met.

As if following a division of labor, GM is busily organizing its dealers to pressure Congress while Chrysler resorts to full page newspaper ads to display its explanation of why the Clean Air Act has to go.

Where is the other side of the story told? In Congressional hearings which are infrequent and not well covered. In the reports of the National Academy of Sciences which are read only by specialists. In the public education efforts of such groups as the Oregon student public interest research group which rebutted in some detail the Ford presentation at the Hilton luncheon.

These communications to the public are not nearly enough. The Environmental Protection Agency has a responsibility of vigorously countering the industry propaganda with facts about just how serious a health hazard is auto pollution and how the technology is available to markedly reduce such emissions while at the same time increase fuel economy. Even GM has admitted that its catalysts for 1976 cars will significantly improve fuel economy, assuming its autos do not keep increasing in weight.

But motorists and non-motorists deserve more than a patchup of the infernal internal combustion engine. They deserve what huge, affluent companies can give them if they were sincere and cared about the health and property of the people–namely, new kinds of engines which require less fuel, less repair, less accompanying hardware and consequently produce far less pollution.

If after 21 years of being put on notice by scientists and governments to clean up, the auto companies are still fighting to preserve their ancient engine’s right to bilk the consumer and contaminate the air, it is time for the government to build realistic prototype engines that will show the way.

There are proposals in Congress to have the government launch a research and development program to overcome this auto pollution disease once and for all. It could be the best bargain to come out of Washington in a long time. Interested readers may wish to write to Senator Magnuson, Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, U.S. Senate for further details. After all, if we could go to the moon…!