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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > An Unhealthy Alliance Perhaps?

The Washington taxi driver dropped off his rider and quit early. He couldn’t take the air pollution in this city where vehicle density per square mile is the highest in the United States.

Mid-June in Washington brought the air pollu­tion index to a high of 130 which is described as “very unhealthy” by the region’s air monitoring officials. “When the index exceeds 100 the air be­comes hazardous and people with lung, heart and eye problems should restrict their, activity,” is the routine statement from these officials. Over on Capitol Hill, the Congress was besieged this month by high level lobbyists for the auto companies and the United Auto Workers (UAW). Led by Thomas Murphy of General Motors, and Leonard Woodcock and Douglas Fraser, the old and new heads of the UAW, they demanded that Congress grant the industry its fourth extension to meet even lower standards than were originally required for 1975 by the 1970 federal air pollution act.

THERE IS LITTLE surprise over General Motors’ insistence on continuing to have the power to pollute. The auto giant is celebrating its 25th anniversary of defiance since a California scientist proved the connection between auto exhaust and photochemical smog.

What is dismaying, to say the least, is the way the United Auto Workers leadership has lined up with GM and the other domestic auto companies. For over two years, UAW chief Leonard Woodcock contended that the air pollution standards in the 1970 law were too stringent, unnecessary for human health, fuel inefficient, and would cost the union jobs. He claims much of his “facts” on the subject comes from a Michigan professor of engi­neering, Dean Ragone.

So Leonard Woodcock, designated as the coming head of the U.S. Mission in Peking by President Carter, spent much of May and June fighting President Carter’s air pollution control proposal in Congress.

There is no doubt that the UAW’s piling of its might along with that of the auto industry suc­ceeded in getting the House of Representatives not only to delay but to relax permanently the stand­ards for two of the three automobile pollutants.

What actually converted Woodcock to GM’s cause may never be known. What is known is that Woodcock’s technical adviser in Michigan is wrong and Woodcock’s economic and health assertions are ridiculously tragic. THE EVIDENCE, both expert and operational, that Woodcock ignored was and continues to be available for his successor, Douglas Fraser, to absorb. At Congressional request, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) reported three years ago that the technology to meet the 1970 auto emis­sion standards was feasible. Meeting the law’s air emission standards, the NAS study said, could pro­duce between $2.5 billion to $10 billion in reduced property damage and health costs.

In a recent letter to the New York Times, Prof. Irvin Glassman of Princeton University, one of the co-authors of the NAS study, repeated his descrip­tion of the kinds of practical engines that could immediately meet the carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon standards and go a long way toward meeting the reduced nitrogen oxides level while saving fuel.

Better mileage, less disease-bearing emissions, and no “in use” maintenance of the pollution con­trol systems are the combined benefits of engines such as Honda’s stratified charge engine. And the ultimate benefits to auto workers as well as other Americans would be less suffering from asthma, bronchitis and pulmonary and cardiovascular disease.

Asserting that job losses would follow enforcement of the 1970 law is one of Woodcock’s most ab­surd claims. Tony Mazzochi of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union has shown how pollu­tion controls create jobs in both production and maintenance. So has evidence brought together by the Washington-based group, Environmentalists for Full Employment (1785 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Wash., D.C. 20036, if readers want to obtain further information on the subject of pollution and jobs).

HOW CLEANER. CARS with better fuel economy will produce fewer jobs defies rational as well as humane contemplation. This is additionally so, since the recent history of car sales, employ­ment, and emission controls show only a connec­tion in the direction of expansion. Despite GM’s je­remiahs to the contrary, the 33 per cent rightening of the nitrogen oxides standard between model years 1976 and 1977 resulted in a 9 per cent im­provement in fuel economy.

It is time for all unions to examine closely their industry’s specious claims that workers have to have a diseased environment or produce a less safe produce if they are to have employment.

And the good news is starting with the UAW’s Douglas Fraser. As if to atone for his team’s sup­port of Woodcock’s pollution-fest with GM, Fraser just broke with Woodcock’s opposition to the pro­posed automobile passive restraint standard which Secretary of Transportation Brock Adams is about to issue. On June 16, 1977, Fraser threw the UAW’s support behind the saving of thousands of lives on the highways by coming out for mandatory pas­sive restraint systems in new automobiles.

It’s been a long wait!