Friday, March 25, 2005

Virtually Emission Free?

I think that this controversy is going to be counterproductive for everybody. Union of Concerned Scientists has come out strongly, (and I do not blame them) against what they call deceptive advertising by the Auto Alliance.

Firstly, There is no doubt that the cars and trucks on the road today are a lot cleaner than they were thirty years ago. The emissions of criteria pollutants, specially NOx and Non-methane Organic gases (NMOG), have actually been reduced by about 99% since 1970 due to stringent air pollution regulations formulated by EPA and CARB. While the automakers are to be commended upon the job they have done really done, one must remember that this would not have happened without those regulations, so a lot of credit is due to the Clean Air Act. Also, we have actually not been monitoring emissions on road, and quite frankly are not sure that all the new vehicles, when they get on the road, are meeting the pollution standards.

Secondly, as the UCS correctly points out, if emission free is what the auto alliance implies, they most certainly do not take in to account the greenhouse gas emissions. The ad does not explicitely say that, so the UCS claim is somewhat justified. This would be important if Auto Alliance were not fighting the California law on controlling greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles in the courts. Moreover, pretty much the same auto makers have agreed in Canada to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles. As I noted previously, Auto Alliance needs to get its act together and speak consistently.

One final thought on why I think this controversy is counterproductive. Sonner or later, greenhouse gas emissions regulations will come in to effect in the US. The auto industry needs to get smart and rather than fighting this effort tooth and nail needs to figure out how they could get the best deal out of this. Controversies like this do not help different parties to come together on a broader agenda items of much larger importance. UCS or other advocacy groups should also bear this fact in mind. As far as reducing the greenhouse gas emissions are concerned, any action today will be important, so they must try to work with the Auto industry to reach a sensible middle ground. The problems that the US auto companies are facing today are real, and trying to corner the industry is not going to be a very productive strategy.

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