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50 Years of “Legal” Climate Change

— September 22, 2017

Record hurricanes, related to climate change, are producing vast devastation.1 Over the past 50 years why have we not been able to create a livable environment? I was privileged in 1967 to contribute to a Federal Government Report “A Strategy for A Livable Environment.” It recommended a 90% reduction in vehicle exhaust emissions.2 Ever since, automotive air pollution from burning fossil fuels has been a major contributor to climate change.3

Record hurricanes, related to climate change, are producing vast devastation.1 Over the past 50 years why have we not been able to create a livable environment? I was privileged in 1967 to contribute to a Federal Government Report “A Strategy for A Livable Environment.” It recommended a 90% reduction in vehicle exhaust emissions.2 Ever since, automotive air pollution from burning fossil fuels has been a major contributor to climate change.3

How did this “legally” happen?

In 1968, Republican Richard Nixon was elected President. At the time, there was growing concern about automotive air pollution control. By September 3, 1969, Congressional concern was being expressed about the “Smog Conspiracy.” 4

Eighteen Congressional representatives wrote a letter dated September 2, 1969 to Department of Justice Attorney General John Mitchell calling for “an open trial of the issues on a civil case filed by the Department…in which the (auto industry defendants) are charged with a fifteen-year conspiracy to suppress research, development and application of automotive air pollution control devices.” 5

But just days later, on September 11, 1969, under Nixon, the Department of Justice issued a Consent Decree to conclude a civil antitrust suit with GM, Ford, Chrysler, and American Motors that had been initiated under the Johnson Administration.6 On October 3, 1969, Rep. George E. Brown, Jr. (D-CA) introduced a detailed statement by Ralph Nader on why an open trial related to the conspiracy should be carried out.7

On April 27, 1971, unbeknownst to the people until the Nixon Watergate tapes became public many years later, Nixon met in the White House with Henry Ford II and Lee Iacocca. They discussed having EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus weaken auto emission measurement test procedures to allow higher emissions while appearing to meet the 90% reductions called for in the Clean Air Act.8

On May 18, 1971, Rep. Phillip Burton released a 1969 secret DOJ memo recommending criminal prosecution of the auto companies. And on the same date the Congressional Record had more on the Smog Conspiracy.9 10 On August 23, 1971, attorney Lewis F. Powell, Jr., a champion of the tobacco industry, wrote a now infamous memo on “survival” not of humanity, but of the business community. Months later President Nixon appointed Powell to the Supreme Court.11

Then, in September 1971, I chaired an EPA Task Force that produced the Report “Our Urban Environment”. The Report made recommendations for controlling air pollution and getting lead out of gasoline to enable catalytic converters to reduce auto emissions. The Report was transmitted to Administrator William Ruckelshaus.12 I was fired from EPA on November 19, 1971 after bringing to public attention the weakening of the auto emission test procedures.13

That same month, a series of House Hearings began on the Clean Air Act at which I testified.14 I also testified at a series of Senate Hearings began on the Inner-City Environment in February 1972.15

By May 1973, I had created a small organization, The Public Interest Campaign to Research and Advocate for Clean Air.16 My research produced the article “Get the Lead Out” by August 1974. 17

On July 28, 1975, Judge Sirica handed down a decision denying public access to National Academy of Sciences’ technical data on the EPA rigging of the automotive emission measurement tests under the Clean Air Act. The decision was appealed and upheld up to the Supreme Court.18

My work on gasoline octane posting on gas pumps was the subject of Senate public hearings at which I testified on October 29, 1975. The result was that octane ratings are now on all gasoline pumps in the U.S. But the formula used was orchestrated by the oil industry to continue confusion of the public and prevent the reduction in octane overbuying. I had petitioned to not only post octane ratings but to also use a “+4” addition to the (R+M)/2 formula to allow consumers to match the recommendations in most owners’ manuals.

The oil industry won and the result was continued waste of energy (about 1 million gallons worth per day), continued excess emissions of lead at the time of about 400,000 pounds per day, and costing consumers an extra nearly $8 million per day (when gasoline was about 50 cents per gallon.)

One memorable episode for me in the battles with EPA, the FEA, and the FTC on behalf of consumers and the environment was when William E. Simon19, then head of the Federal Energy Office (FEO) wrote to me saying that he would welcome my assistance in educating “the Nation’s motorists to the four-point difference between the ratings posted and the ratings motorists were accustomed to in their car manuals.”

I testified that on our tiny budget this was the height of “fuelishness.” See pp. 43,44 in the Hearing.20

In 1978, I went to work at NHTSA on fuel economy and safety. By 1980, with the election of Republican Ronald Reagan, Climate Change Denial grew.21 Exxon Mobil knew about climate change in the 1980s and began denials and today lawsuits have been filed against the company.

“And just last month, three California communities sued 37 oil, coal and gas companies, including Exxon Mobil, for contributing to sea level rise while engaging in a “coordinated, multifront effort to conceal and deny their own knowledge of those threats.” At the same time, the New York and Massachusetts attorneys general continue to investigate whether Exxon Mobil may have violated racketeering, consumer protection or investor protection statutes. And the federal Securities and Exchange Commission started a probe of its own last fall, asking the company about its longstanding policy of not writing down the value of its oil reserves, as other companies had done.” 22

Today we hear the latest in a long line of Republican Administrators of EPA Scott Pruitt tell us: “Washington (CNN) Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt told CNN in an interview about Hurricane Irma on Thursday that the time to talk about climate change isn’t now.” 23

Wikipedia describes Scott Pruitt as follows: “In his campaigns for Oklahoma Attorney General, Pruitt received campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry. As Oklahoma’s Attorney General, Pruitt sued the Environmental Protection Agency at least 14 times regarding the agency’s actions. In 2012, Pruitt was elected as chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association, and re-elected for a second term in February 2013. Pruitt rejects the scientific consensus that human activities are a primary contributor to climate change and that carbon dioxide is the primary contributor.” 24

Other infamous Republican EPA Administrators followed including:

  • Anne Gorsuch became the first agency director in U.S. History to be cited for contempt of Congress.25
  • Christine Todd Whitman who was caught lying to the American people about their safety immediately after the September 11 attacks.

“Whitman appeared twice in New York City after the September 11 attacks to inform New Yorkers that the toxins released by the attacks posed no threat to their health. On September 18, the EPA released a report in which Whitman said, ‘Given the scope of the tragedy from last week, I am glad to reassure the people of New York and Washington, D.C. that their air is safe to breathe and their water is safe to drink.’ She also said, ‘The concentrations are such that they don’t pose a health hazard… We’re going to make sure everybody is safe.’ A 2003 report by the EPA’s Inspector General determined that the assurance was misleading, because the EPA ‘did not have sufficient data and analyses’ to justify it. In 2016, Whitman apologized for the first time for her declaration a week after 9/11 that the air in lower Manhattan was safe to breathe.” 26

The deliberate but tragic tolls in human suffering of the Republican environmental policies continues to this day and will plague people far into the future.

We must note that the environmental and safety policies of Democrats also were too often tragically faulty. President Obama repeatedly and wrongly said to the people of Flint, Michigan that their “children will be fine”.

Now, the reason that’s important is because lead is a serious issue. And if undiagnosed and not dealt with, it can lead to some long-term problems. But — and this is important, so I want everybody to pay attention — if you know that your child may have been exposed and you go to a health clinic, a doctor, a provider, and are working with them, then your child will be fine….

(Applause.) They’ll do just fine, just like I did fine with a single mom, and a lot of you did fine growing up in a tough neighborhood.” 27

One depiction of a clean, livable environment; image courtesy of
One depiction of a clean, livable environment; image courtesy of

Our Environment Today

An MIT study of air pollution found it to be causing early deaths each year: “Emissions from road transportation are the most significant contributor, causing 53,000 premature deaths, followed closely by power generation, with 52,000.” 28

Listen to a revealing interview of Prof. Noam Chomsky by Ralph Nader29 for insights into why so many Americans do not know what has been happening to them over the past 50 years.

Hopefully, the American people will learn to politically and legally control corporate supremacy before it is too late for all of us.


  1. Climate Change Indicators: Sea Surface Temperature
  2. A Strategy for A Livable Environment Report of The DHEW Task Force on Environmental Health and Related Matters July 1967
  3. Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  4. 115 Cong. Rec. 24001, 24084 (1969)
  5. Eckhardt News Release and DOJ Letter
  6. DOJ Consent Decree
  7. Congressional Record October Nader Statement
  8. Right v. Wrong: True Story on Air Pollution, Science & the Law
  9. Burton Press Release
  10. GPO-CRECB-1971-pt12-2-2
  11. Wikipedia: Lewis F. Powell, Jr.
  12. Our Urban Environment
  13. Is This Any Way to Get Clean Air?
  14. Clean Air Act House Hearings
  15. The Inner-City Environment and the Role of the Environmental Protection Agency
  16. The Public Interest Campaign – Clean Air
  17. Get the Lead Out
  18. Lombardo v. Handler
  19. Wikipedia: William E. Simon
  20. Hrg-1975-com-0016_from_1_to_149_reduce
  21. Climate Change Denial
  22. What Exxon Mobil Didn’t Say About Climate Change
  23. EPA chief on Irma: The time to talk climate change isn’t now
  24. Wikipedia: Scott Pruitt
  25. Wikipedia: Anne Gorsuch Burford
  26. Wikipedia: Christine Todd Whitman
  27. Read President Obama’s Speech in Flint on Water Crisis
  28. MIT Study: Study: Air pollution causes 200,000 early deaths each year in the U.S.
  29. Ralph Nader & Noam Chomsky Debate (August 13, 2017), About Democracy Now

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