Sen. Robert Stafford (R-Vt.) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) do NOT want Americans to breathe more poisonous air. On the other side, Roger Smith, chairman of General Motors, is pressuring members of Congress to severely cripple the Clean Air Act of 1970. The outcome of this momentous struggle in Congress will depend entirely on how many people in this country are willing to begin contacting their members of Congress to preserve and strengthen this vital public health law.
Up to now, only the outpouring of letters from outraged citizens to Congress has held GM, the Reaganites and their cohorts at bay on Capitol Hill. A Louis Harris poll taken in September reports that, by 80 percent to 17 percent, the public opposes the relaxation of air pollution regulations. Harris told a group of Democrats that if they “stay with the Clean Air Act as it is now, you have quite an issue gong for you, and the Republicans, I would say, are courting the deepest trouble.”
Chairman Smith is focusing on increasing motor vehicle emissions, which are the single most serious source of air pollution in the United States. GM, of course, disagrees. Its bosses have long maintained that your lungs don’t really mind these noxious gases because they’re not harmful. About 10 years ago, GM even printed more than a million comic books for free distribution to fourth- and fifth-graders around the country, conveying just that erroneous message.
So, with its friends, Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.) and Steve Syms (R-Idaho), GM wants to worsen carbon monoxide standards from the present 3.4 grams per mile to 7.0, and the nitrogen oxide standards from 1.0 to 2.0 grams per mile.
Motor vehicles emit 90 percent of carbon monoxide in urban areas. They also are a major source of nitrogen oxides, which harm the respiratory system, as well as contribute to smog and acid rain. Heavy trucks, under GM’s plan, would have their modest pollution controls postponed. Trucks now are largely uncontrolled for emissions.
GM is offering to reduce prices of cars if its foul measures are passed. Fat chance. First of all, all 1981 and 1982 cars already meet the existing nitrogen oxide and hydrocarbon standards that GM wants to further degrade. By this is meant that the auto companies are in short-term compliance when the new cars are sold. So it will not cost the auto companies any more to keep meeting the present rules. GM itself would not warrant the amount of dollar savings they would pass on to consumers. And they decline to indicate how many lung diseases would be traded off.
Listen, instead, to Arvid Jouppi, Sr., vice president for Rooney, Pace Inc., and a veteran financial analyst of the automobile industry. He testified that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to detect price savings passed through to consumers from relaxation of standards.
At any rate, for a company that charges consumers many hundreds of dollars for chrome and styling, GM has some arrogance trying to seduce Congress into inducing mass disease for phony dollar assurances.
Some technical observers maintain that if GM gets its way, some automakers—particularly the Japanese, whose engines are more efficient—will be able to remove the emission controls so that leaded gas will be used. Lead is a most serious pollutant and one that has been found in dangerous amounts in urban children. Bringing back lead is like bring back a plague.
GM wants to descend even further away from elementary human standards by demanding that the EPA’s enforcement authority to test vehicles and order recalls for non-complying vehicles be eroded.
All GM’s assertions have been repeatedly rebutted in congressional hearings. What remains is a giant corporation run by powerful spite and fanatical hatred of national laws which, after all, merely require the company to reduce its destruction of other people’s health and property.
If you want to defend those precious assets of yours, get in touch with your representative and senators. For more information, write Waxman or Stafford at the U.S. Congress, Washington, D.C. (zip code 20515 for Waxman and 20510 for Stafford.)