The Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers recently submitted a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).  Said letter was part of its effort to lobby against light-duty vehicle standards.smfh!!

Don’t you love when each automaker tout their green credentials.  Best is when their corporate efforts at sustainability (like Toyota’s Winter Olympics ad).  In their love on duality, their trade group is quietly taking a very different approach.  Their Alliance’s letter relies on shoddy and discredited studies.  Trust that they always conflict with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change and air pollution.

Automakers who use sustainability to create an appealing public image clearly understand the truth about climate and pollution.

So why is their trade group pushing out such obvious misinformation?

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) analyst Dave Cooke has a new blog post on the Alliance’s tactics below.

Dave Cooke, senior vehicles analyst

Since last month, the Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers submitted a report to the NHTSA. That’s part of their effort to get Department of Transportation to call into question impacts of climate change and tailpipe pollutants.  This was solely to undercut the need for fuel economy regulation.  The Alliance is the trade group for Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, and Toyota, among others.  The report funded by the Alliance wrote by industry shills with ties to the Heartland Institute and General Motors . It flies in the face of automaker claims by the likes of Ford and Toyota that they are taking climate change seriously.

Taking a page straight out of the Disinformation Playbook

The group funded to put together the report has a long history of working against environmental regulations. As we know, that’s pretty much their schtick.  Past clients include the following companies and organizations.  Some are the American Petroleum Institute, the American Coal Council, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Monsanto, the American Enterprise Institute and yes the Alliance.
The report follows a familiar pattern.  First off, they generally call into question the science behind the health.  You know, the impacts of [insert pollutant here].  It’s 99.99999% of the time.  In addition , it’s often based on a convoluted and biased modeling effort masquerading as science.

If you’re familiar with the Disinformation Playbook, then what’s in the Alliance’s paid-for report will sound familiar:

“The Fake”—The papers cited to support weakening environmental protections.  They are often paid for by industry and/or published in journals.  Always with weak peer-review standards and disclosure policies. As well, the Alliance report cites studies by Tony Cox which were directly funded by the American Petroleum Institute.  These cast doubt on the proven health impacts of soot.  Furthermore, the journals in which the articles published are known homes for questionable industry-funded research.  Usual suspect alert is Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology.

“The Fix”—Two authors cited by the Alliance (Stanley Young and Tony Cox) are now in advisory roles for the EPA.  Aka, as part of the administration’s move toward soliciting their advice from industry-funded scientists. And the Alliance already has strong support within the Department of Transportation for its pitch.  Firstly, Deputy Secretary Jeff Rosen defended GM in liability litigation.  They fought the EPA’s regulation of carbon dioxide while at the Office of Management and Budget.  He he, his previous employer (Kirkland and Ellis) employing at least twice by the Alliance.  They love lawsuits to prevent California from regulating global warming emissions from vehicles.

•“The Diversion”—Rather than summarizing the most recent body of research on climate impacts They would be done by anyone genuinely interested in ensuring policy based on the best science.  The report cherry-picks studies to weaken the case for acting on climate and reducing emissions from vehicles, either by selecting outliers or misconstruing the findings of the research.

For example, the Alliance selected “key points” from a paper on drought variation.  Then they diminish the role of climate change on drought and flood.  You know by ignoring the paper’s other findings.  The script related to increasing temperatures. It’s a “substantial intensification of the global hydrologic cycle [that] is likely in a warming world.” More recent studies citing this work build upon these ignored findings.  So they were “based on the most current data” and find evidence for the increasing role of this temperature trend.  You know folks by including work by the authors of the cited study.

History repeating itself

Part of me is not surprised that the automakers have adopted this strategy to mislead on the science, because it’s a tactic they’ve used in the past time and time. As outlined in the UCS report Time for a U-turn:

• 1950s: Automakers denied that smog was a problem and colluded to delay deployment of pollution controls. In other words, to forestall regulation.  They also ran the same play on seatbelts. They did this by claiming that “nobody knows” if they save lives. All despite a decade of definitive research.

• 1980s: Automakers claimed that there would be no health benefits for stronger pollution standards. Car companies fought under the Clean Air Act.  This delay led to state action and amendments to the Act in 1990.  That’s because of the nationwide problem with smog. Smog was so bad back then. So bad! So bad that finally even Congress couldn’t ignore.

• 1990s: The lead voice for automakers on revisions to “soot and smog” air quality requirements. Here they claimed that a temporary 20 to 30 percent reduction in lung function wasn’t enough to be a health effect. It was also in the 1990s that automakers began their climate skepticism.

Claiming that “climate models were too uncertain to act upon.” Chrysler CEO Robert Eaton even penned a Washington Post op-ed.  They’d be opposing ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. Again claiming action on climate was “unwise and unnecessary.”

In the UCS report, they called for the industry to make a U-turn on its behavior. Although and hence to therefore, we have sad facts. So the sad fact of the matter is that the auto industry doesn’t want to change. This most recent submission to the government shows us. It just shows. They are still mired in their questionable tactics of old.

It’s time for automakers to lead

The vehicle efficiency standards set back in 2012 were the result of support from the automakers. Working closely with regulators to design the regulations.  For an industry with a decades-long history of fighting regulation. See this about-face was the result of a harsh confrontation with reality.

Let’s give a history lesson. Just before the Great Recession, the Detroit Three had fallen on hard times. Irony here was it came from neglecting to invest in the efficiency of their passenger car fleet.  When gas prices rose, the companies’ sales and profits dropped like a rock. Ford took out so many, requiring massive loans they mortgaged everything.  In this context, the industry seemed to finally recognize needing industry-wide efficiency standards. I mean they weren’t increased in decades.

Today, however, that leadership is nowhere found. Automakers are urging he current administration to weaken standards, and EPA and Chao’s DOT seem dead-set to do exactly that.  Hence, suppliers recognize the harm that pulling back on these standards will do to the industry. So then you have the good ol automakers.  Car companies that stuck in the same mindset.  Bottom line folks, that costs the country, and our environment.

Now, not only are automakers trying to weaken the standards.  You see, they are calling into question the need for regulations at all.  NHTSA would do well to ignore this rubbish.  Please NHTSA,make sure its decisions are best on the best available science.  However automakers like Ford and Toyota truly think that climate change needs addressed, common and do something. Bottom line,  it’s incumbent upon them to keep their trade association from putting out this kind of anti-science drivel.

Automakers need to stand up for science and call out this nonsense, or they stand complicit on the side of rhetoric and lies in weakening our environmental protections just to pad their profits.

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