WASHINGTON - General Motors has broken from the ranks of greener-than-thou automakers and taken a hard line against proposed new tailpipe emissions standards.
The tough stand, disclosed in formal comments GM filed with the EPA, surprised agency officials and environmental groups.
GM said the agency does not have the legal authority to propose the rules, that it has not proved the rules are needed for public health and that the rules could harm air quality.
The EPA is required by law to consider comments made in response to proposed rules, but the agency is almost certain to reject GM's arguments.
Margo Oge, director of the EPA's Office of Mobile Sources, said last week in response, 'We believe there are strong environmental and public health needs for this program. The final standards will be tough to meet those needs.'
The proposed new standards, commonly called Tier 2, are to be phased in from 2004 to 2009. They would require more reductions of up to 95 percent in tailpipe pollutants, already cut by as much as 97 percent over the past three decades. They also would require manufacturers to combine emissions from cars and most light trucks into fleet averages in meeting the new standards. The EPA plans to adopt final rules by year end.
WALK THE TALK?
While GM's arguments are not likely to be persuasive, they signal to some that the industry may be less enthusiastic about the environment than carmakers tell the public.
'There is a big discrepancy between the public voice (of GM) and these comments,' said Frank O'Donnell, executive director of the environmental group Clean Air Trust. 'Perhaps they (GM) feel their technology is deficient,' he said.
The industry's Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, of which GM is a member, has said it supports the principles underlying the EPA's proposed rules but has suggested some changes, including even lower-sulfur fuel than the EPA proposes and a longer phase-in period.
An alliance official, who asked not to be named, said it is common for trade association members to file comments separate from those of the organization when major rules are pending. The official also said it appears that GM is trying to get some legal arguments into the record in case it determines the final rules should be challenged.
NO OTHER OBJECTIONS
GM spokeswoman Mia Walton said the company still supports the alliance position but added, 'We want to ensure that the EPA has a full and complete record against which to judge this rule-making.'
Ford Motor Co., which has been vocal about its environmental commitment, did not file comments separate from those of the alliance. DaimlerChrysler's comments generally reiterated the alliance position, said spokeswoman Nicole Solomon.
Other manufacturers that filed separate comments did not object strenuously to the proposed rules, said agency and environmental officials who have reviewed the documents.