When government fails there’s always the people

If Ralph Nader were dead he would be “rolling over in his grave” today.

As it turns out, he’s alive so he doesn’t need to roll over. But one can only imagine how he must feel. After a lifetime of trying to reform the auto industry, Nader today is seeing a real regression.

Nader worked hard in the ‘60s to prod the federal government into clamping down on unsafe cars (his book, “Unsafe At Any Speed,” was the first to outline the industry’s negligence and greed). In subsequent writings, he chronicled the poor gas mileage and lousy emissions coming out of Detroit’s cars.

Today, those values seem hopelessly outdated in a world caught up in material gain and physical comfort. After Congress passed stringent gas mileage goals, for example, gas mileage on today’s vehicles seem like they are the worst they’ve ever been. Some of Detroit’s vehicles are getting mileage as low as 10 mpg, and this comes at a time when the U.S. is depleting its stock of oil and the air we breathe is affected by ozone holes, global warming and the Greenhouse effect.

The current trend toward large, heavy sports utility vehicles (SUVs) doesn’t help. SUVs are an easy target for criticism. Their deficiencies are well documented:

1. Studies show they are a hazard to smaller and lighter vehicles;

2. Other crash studies show they are relatively unsafe and unstable – prone to roll over in a collision and corner badly;

3. Stopping distance in the heavier SUV is considerably longer than a standard vehicle;

4. SUV drivers who buy the vehicles as a means of self-defense take more risks because they tend to feel safer than they were in a standard car, (for one reason because many employ 4-wheel drive);

5. Gas mileage is so bad that it is cited as a major contributor to air pollution. (SUVs are exempt from federal gas mileage requirements because they are considered “off-road” vehicles.)

Recently, the Ford Motor Co. publicly acknowledged the poor gas mileage on some of its vehicles – I’m guessing the Expedition and Excursion models are particular examples — in a 98-page book distributed at its annual meeting. It also hinted at the emissions problems of its and said is committed to working on improving them.

The public admission is laudable but one wonders what the company is really prepared to do. Sales of its SUVs are running very high, and Ford’s is experiencing record profits. (Profits on a single SUV model are reported to be as high as $15,000.)

Where is the Congress in all this — the same Congress that passed the gas mileage requirements back in the 1970s? Isn’t it way past the time these requirements should have been amended to include SUVs?

It’s okay for Ford to own up to its share of the problem, but stewardship of the nation’s clean air is not Ford’s responsibility – it belongs to Congress.

But if you look at the problem more closely, you’ll understand that the problem is really our own apathy. For what is the Congress but really a group of representatives (supposedly) representing our interests?

And who, after all, if buying all these SUVs? It’s not our Congressional representatives.

One is reminded of the famous Pogo statement: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Congress seems to be asleep. Those of us who worry about the future of our atmosphere should make our voices heard. Let’s revise that law to include SUVs — and let’s do it now.

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