Abuse of Power

Members of the media have long been accustomed to confronting politicians with their past statements and asking for a present explanation.

The same treatment is not accorded executives of large corporations. Politi­cians are chided for exaggerating or dissembling. Not so with corporate executives. Could it be that the latter do not engage in such practices?

Let’s look at the record. In 1974, the Occupational Safety and Health Admin­istration (OSHA) found that vinyl chloride—an industrial chemical—was linked to a virulent form of liver cancer in exposed workers. The agency ordered levels of vinyl chloride in the workplace reduced.

The chemical and plastics executives flew into a flurry of bloated overstate­ment. They said the OSHA requirement would close the polyvinyl chloride production plants and cost the economy about $90 billion. OSHA stuck by its decision. In testimony before the Senate a few months ago, Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall declared that “the actual cost turned out to fall between $127 and $I28 million; and that industry has managed not only to comply with the standard, but to devise more efficient and profitable technologies that actually increased production at the same time.”

Looking back over the past decade, researchers at the Much-beleaguered Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that lout of six surveyed industries had overestimated the costs of meeting environmental regulations by as much as 347 percent. Even though it relied on industry data, the EPA estimates were much more accurate.

Another study out of MIT’s Center for Policy Alternatives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, showed that compliance with environmental standards, far from producing a net cost in return for the health benefits, actually increased pro­ductivity. The report stated that “research and development aimed at compliance with health or safety regulations can increase overall produc­tivity because the production system becomes more tightly controlled, reduc­ing emissions, or because the instru­ments used to control it are improved.”

On August 26, 1980, in the Rayburn Office Building of the U.S. House of Representatives, Douglas Fraser head a the United Auto Workers, told an assemblage of legislators and govern­ment officials, “I want to tell you, flatly, that air bags will save thousands of lives,” adding that safer and less-polluting cars must be considered a positive contribution to productivity in the auto industry.

Back in the late 1960s when auto safety standards first were being issued, GM and Ford executives roared forth with wildly inflated compliance cost figures, GM said the shoulder seat belts would cost almost $30 when its suppliers were selling the belts for well under $5.

The stratospheric corporate cost figure is now a fixed business tactic used to diminish or defeat health and safety regulations that protect consumers, communities (in the case of waste dumps and pollution) and workers.

Government lass enforcement officials know this well. But they have not been aggressive at all in demanding full disclosure of cost information, including suppliers’ invoices, calculated deprecia­tion periods and other raw data. This default has permitted corporate propa­gandists to engage in a field day of misinformation about these regulations causing inflation, worker layoffs, and suppression of innovation when, in fact, just the opposite has been the case.

About a million net jobs have been created due to purchases of pollution control equipment and maintenance labor by companies. The reduction of disease, property damage and wage loss which result from cleaner technologies has very beneficial consequences for the general economy and the quality of life in America.

One would think that corporate fabrications in this very important economic and health area of our society would become a campaign issue. Perhaps the reason why it doesn’t is that the subject involves questions of Unbalanced power which political cam­paigns have been running away from since, at least, the end of World War II.

But why do reporters also avoid it? If you want to confirm this question for yourself, just observe the presidential campaign for the next three weeks and see if you can spot one question about the abuse of power by Big Business at a press conference. Then maybe there will be more awareness of the need to answer it.

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