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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of July 24 - 30, 2002

Opinion Column

California, not the White House, leads

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

If President Bush treated the war on terrorism the way he treats environmental pollution, Al Qaeda terrorist Osama bin Laden and the fanatical Taliban would still be riding high in Afghanistan, thumbing their noses at Americans.

Bush spares nothing to subdue terrorism, including police powers that nibble at the basic fabric of American liberties. The White House, as an example, is considering unprecedented police powers for the U.S. military over civilians. Attorney General John Ashcroft already is detaining suspects indefinitely without a lawyer, without charges and without appeal.

But Republicans find one White House ploy so offensive to American traditions that a House committee chaired by ultraconservative Rep. Dick Armey, D-Texas, opposes it: Ashcroft’s plan to create a national spy network with his TIPS program ("Terrorism Information and Prevention System") that would recruit informants to pass along to Justice raw, undocumented information and rumors about "suspicious" behavior of people and their activities.

But as for air pollution, whose eventual effects could be more damaging to more people over time if not attacked early, President Bush seems oblivious and actually encourages pollution through deliberate inaction. He even rejected pollution reports of his own science advisers as nonsense from "bureaucrats."

The president seems paralyzed by dictates from polluting industries and political handlers who’re contemptuous of controls on noxious emissions into air and water. He rejected the international Kyoto Treaty, and now refuses to get tough at home with polluters.

So, since he won’t lead, California will: Gov. Gray Davis has signed a law requiring the auto industry to adopt new technologies by 2009 that’ll reduce greenhouse gases.

Although California is often mocked as the incubator of goofy trends, and, to some, "the largest exporter of nuts," the state has been singularly aggressive in environmental protection, especially cleaning up air pollutants that once made the Los Angeles Basin a respiratory nightmare – but which hasn’t had a smog alert since 1998.

Since California accounts for 10 percent of Detroit’s sales market, Detroit will be forced to produce all vehicles to California standards, which will be good for the entire country.

Not surprisingly, Detroit talks of trying to repeal the new law in court or at the polls. Carmakers whine they face ruin if the law stands.

Americans have seen these tantrums before. When opposing the Clean Air Act of 1970, the American Automobile Manufacturers Association whimpered it couldn’t meet standards, predicting that "manufacturers … would be forced to shut down." Another industry figure testified to a Senate committee that 1979 fuel economy rules would "restrict the industry to producing subcompact cars or even smaller ones."

After all the blubbering, Detroit went on to produce a full range of cars, including large SUVs, and garnered record profits, thank you.

Today’s cleaner, better-performing vehicles are the result of Detroit being dragged kicking and screaming into higher standards and social responsibility.

Had the Detroit obstructionists 30 years ago been successful in beating back laws for improved performance and safety, there’d be no catalytic converter to control auto emissions, no vastly improved gasoline mileage, no seat belts, no safety air bags, and no safety seats for tots – all of which long ago proved their worth and public endorsement, but all opposed by Detroit.

President Bush talks like a fierce gladiator about homeland security. But the president seems in ho-hum denial about the air pollution enemy that could cripple the well being of tens of millions of Americans for generations to come in their homeland.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.