Dear Care for Crash Victims Community Members:
Today, Ralph Nader, on his birthday, publishes an article on retiring Congressman John Dingell.
Nader wrote: “Congressman John Dingell (D-MI), the longest serving member of Congress in history (59 years), did much good and much bad. Reports of his retirement stressed his work in championing Medicare, civil rights legislation, and several environmental laws. Less noticed was his vigorous oversight and investigations of federal departments and agencies that were lax, riven with conflicts of interest, or mistreated whistle-blowers.
But Dingell had another, darker side to his otherwise liberal image. He was totally and cruelly indentured to the auto industry even though he was from an overwhelmingly safe Democratic district. More than any other lawmaker, Democratic or Republican, he fought to make sure that the auto Goliaths got their way in Congress and at the EPA and the Department of Transportation.
I observed his tenacity in delaying the issuance of the life-saving airbag standard, in opposing noxious emission controls on motor vehicles and, most irrationally, in freezing fuel-efficiency rules for many years. He did this with sheer stubborn willpower and by forging a mutually destructive alliance between the Big Three auto companies – GM, Ford, and Chrysler –and the United Auto Workers (UAW).
In the greatest ironies of his lengthy career, he helped mightily in sheltering the technological stagnation of Detroit’s auto barons from innovation-advancing regulation that eventually cost them massive market share to more fuel efficient and higher quality foreign imports from Germany and Japan. This also cost the UAW tens of thousands of jobs.
When, in recent years, the domestic auto industry’s demise was finally clear to him, he began to relent on fuel efficiency but it was too late to save the industry from its own mismanagement and illusions.
The resultant impact on the health and safety of the American people was his most lasting devastating legacy. Year after year people breathed more vehicle emissions and lost their lives or were injured in less safe vehicles because of Mr. Dingell’s huge presence on Capitol Hill.”
I have a personal story about my work that was influenced by both Nader — inspiring — and Rep. Dingell — disappointing.
During the period 1972 – 1978 I was inspired to do public interest work. One issue was gasoline octane posting. It was a lonely effort but educational.
“Results: Advocacy resulted in enactment of Title II – Octane Disclosure – of the Petroleum Marketing Practices Act (P.L. 95-297) requiring the posting of gasoline octane quality ratings on all gasoline pumps to reduce consumer octane overbuying. Octane overbuying in the 1970s was resulting, each day, in an economic waste of three million consumer dollars, energy waste of one million gallons of gasoline, and air pollution of 400,000 pounds of lead.”
Rep. Dingell was the legislative leader on that legislation. The oil industry launched a lobbying campaign to change the formula that would be used on the labels from Research Octane (R) to the average of the Research and Motor Octane ratings = (R+M)/2.
I pointed out that this would compromise the effectiveness of posting because millions of motorists had become used to the Research octane ratings recommended in their owner’s manuals. The Average Octane ratings were about 4 points lower than the Research Octane ratings. So I advocated that the formula be amended to [(R+M)/2] + 4 to prevent the confusion. The Congress adopted the oil industry formula.
About a decade later I analyzed the data to see if the posting had any statistical effect in reducing octane overbuying. I could find no detectable effect in saving money, energy, or air pollution due to posting of octane ratings. Disappointing.
But today is Ralph Nader’s birthday and we should all thank him and wish that all his inspiring work will long continue to help build a safer America.
Thanks and Happy Birthday Ralph Nader!