THE giant of the automobile industry in
states - the General Motors
has been caught red-
sav the triumphant
tal Protection Agency (EPA)
w the us. The company had
an emission control device in
Cadillac luxury cars, which
tbt vehicles to emit illegal
of carbon dioxide. A suit was
t the company by the us
Department - which, inciden
am &-ting on behalf of the EPA.
GM authorities, obviously anxious to
dw wue as early as possible to
afa ansavoury public response, have
Aumd so recall nearly half a millon
mud to spend nearly $45 million
other costs. The recall of the
INOWMbiles itself will cost the million.
"The GM's action has sacrificed public health and defied the laws," raged
Carol Browner, the EPA adminstrator.
And environment groups in the country
are spitting fire and brimstone. "I've
dealt with the auto industry in an adversarial way for many years, but I IiLve
never seen a deliberate, wilful effort to
break the law that is as blatant as this
appears to be," screamed Daniel Becker,
a lobbyist working with the front-running environmental NGo
- the Sierra Club. The
charges levelled against
pretation the General Motors
brings into light outright
employed by the company. It has been accused
of selling cars that violate the Clean Water Act,
1972, as it manufactured
and sold devices completely ignoring pollution
controls, and failed
to report the use of the devices.
This is certainly the
under the strict scrutiny
of the Clean Water Act rules
emissions. The settlement, if approved
by the us District Court in Washington,
where it has been filed, would stand out
as the first instance of a case where the
court has ordered a recall of automobiles for violating emission standards
and duping the government. The EPA, in
the course of its routine testing of new
models, stumbled upon this major slipup, and immediately swung into action.
According to government agencies,
the General Motors had designed a new
computer chip in 1990, for engine controls on Cadihac Seville and Deville
models, after customers complained
that the cars had a tendency to stall
when the system that operates the heating and air conditioning inside the car
running. The new chips were pro was
grammed to inject additional fuel into
the engine whenever this climate system
was not operating. But the resulting
exhaust was found to be too rich in carbon monoxide. The catalytic converters
were not equipped to contain the gas
and coDsequeDtly, tailpipe emissions
alarmingly rose to double or triple the allowable levels.
Carbon monoxide is one of the six
main air pollutants listed under the
health-based standards of the Clean
Water Act. It can cause heart problems,
headaches and impaired vision.
Exposure to excessive levels can even prove lethal.
The cars sold by the General Motors
are normally driven with the air conditioners running. But when they were
certified at the factory, they were tested
with the systems off. Therefore, the
Cadillac's high pollution levels were not
registered in those tests, explains EPA officials.
The Gm authorities are in a tight
spot, but they still refuse to shoulder the
entire blame. "We strongly disagree
with the allegations made by the
Federal government," grumbled Dennis
Minano, GM'S vice president of corporate affairs. He called the case a "a matter of interpretation" of complex regulations. But he emphatically stressed that
the company "had worked very hard to
resolve the matter and avoid litigation."
Minano's defence line to safeguard the company has failed to make a
dent in the opposition camp. Lois J
Schiffer, assistant attorney general for
environment, is convinced that "the GM
knew what it was doing". Thomas P
Carroll, a Justice Department environ-
mental lawyer, was particularly critical
of the GM for continuing to use the chip
in the cars, even after they discovered
the problem way back in 1991. "They
should have gone back and re-engineered it to improve the emissions,"
But the GM is paying dearly for its slip.
Besides the huge fine, the GM will also
have to spend $8.75 million as part of a
corporate community service penalty
which will include providing district
schools with new buses that run on batteries or any other cleaner fuel.