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E-M:/ An autoworker's view of EPA rules

Enviro-Mich message from sherry.hayden@sfsierra.sierraclub.org

This ran in Sunday's Flint Journal, 12 October 1997, H2, in the "Your Views" 
section as an "If You Ask Me" column. The following is the unedited version.

"Autoworkers should support new EPA rules"
By Mike Keeler

    As a former Local 599 Environmental Standing Committee member, I'm disgusted 
by my Local Union President Art McGee's comments on environmental regulation and 
the new Environmental Protection Agency rules. ("Flint UAW leader calls EPA 
rules devastating," Thursday, Sept. 25, 1997.)

    McGee's claim that steel, glass and rubber industries were driven off-shore 
from unnecessary regulation, and that the automobile industry could be next, is 
reactionary and untrue.

    In fact, the industries' own inefficiencies and inability to compete in a 
global market led to their demise. If McGee's claims were true, then how did 
Japan take many of our steel jobs? Japan mandates its industries to produce more 
goods with less energy and pollution than any other nation.

    In calling the new EPA Clean Air Standards for ground ozone and soot 
"unnecessary environmental protection," McGee sounds like an industry spin 
doctor crying wolf.  I wonder what makes McGee such an expert, when even the 
well-respected American Lung Association contradicts his accusations.  In the 
early '90s, they sued the EPA to make the agency take a closer look at 
acceptable levels of pollution.  This forced the EPA to analyze thousands of 
studies on ozone and soot, and it concluded the new health standards are needed.

    The studies showed increases in mortality, hospital admissions and 
emergency-room visits, as well as decreases in lung function and other forms of 
respiratory problems in adults and children.

    The EPA cost/benefit analysis studies found industries would spend between 
$6.5 to $8.5 billion annually on the new health standards while returning health 
benefits of up to $120 billion.  So there would be a transfer of cost from the 
general public to the polluting industries. 

    The National Association of Manufacturers has launched a sophisticated 
multi-million dollar campaign against the EPA's findings and having to comply 
with the tighter standards.  They have attacked the science, calling it shaky 
and incomplete.  Industry estimates compliance will cost about $60 billion 
annually.  This is about seven times higher than the EPA's estimate.  Industry 
claims there will be job losses, higher electric bills, prohibition of barbecue 
grills and lawn mowers.  Their scare tactics have been spread through press 
conferences, and ads in newspapers, radios and television.  

    Their lack of credibility is only exceeded by their apparent lack of ethics.  
Looking back at the Clean Air debates in the '70s and '80s, we caught industry 
in distortion after distortion.  In 1979, General Motors advised Congress that 
having to comply with Clean Air standards would cause "widespread inflation and 
employee layoff."  In 1990, oil companies fought having to change to cleaner 
gasoline, predicting the cost would increase 3 cents to 5 cents per gallon, with 
long lines at gas stations.  The actual cost increase was a fraction of a cent.  
The utility industry predicted acid rain controls to cost as much as $1,500 per 
ton.  Actual cost: $70 to $100 per ton.

    In June, when President Clinton decided to endorse the new air standards, he 
must have looked at the scientific and medical studies, and public comments 
including 17,000 letters, 300 emails and 15,000 phonecalls.  He must have been 
advised of the polls showing Americans are in favor of stricter air standards.

    Many of us at Buick city are worried about the future of the plant.  
However, if we are asking the community to join with us to save our jobs, it is 
only fair that we look out for the community as well.  Walter Reuther, a 
founding father of the UAW, once said that there is no use in negotiating time 
off for union brothers and sisters if we are going to allow our air, rivers and 
streams to be polluted so they can't enjoy them on their time off.

    We need to focus on long-term quality-of-life issues that will benefit the 
workforce and the greater community, not on reactionary rhetoric that serves 
only industry.

(Mike Keeler is a Buick City worker with a Bachelor of Science from Michigan 
State University.  He is currently serving on the Board of the Michigan Chapter 
of the Sierra Club.)

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