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SURVIVAL IN A CHEMICAL. WORLD Business profits from clean air Q. In a recent announcement by the Texas Railroad Commission in the Galveston Daily News, a debate on the Clean Air Act, the question is asked, “What impact will state and federal clean air legislation have on the Houston-Galveston area?” Specifically the issue to be addressed is, “How will the business community respond to the challenge of reducing pollution while maintaining a healthy economic base?” I would like you to address this question and offer some guidelines. A. The initial premise of the question you posed in many instances is incorrect. One does not have to make a choice between reducing pollution while maintaining a healthy economic base. In fact, minimizing pollution on the basis of regulatory requirements or by voluntary means may frequently improve environmental quality, as well as improving the economic base of the community. The case of a highly toxic human carcinogen, vinyl chloride, illustrates this point. In the 1970s, it became abundantly Marvin S. Legator is a professor and director of the division of environmental toxicology at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Amanda M. HowellsDaniel is with the Toxics Assistance Program at the University of Texas Medical Branch. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of UTMB Galveston. clear that this chemical was far more toxic than initially anticipated. The government requirement for this chemical precluded the exposure of workers from an exposure of greater that 100 parts per million in a normal eight-hour work day. With the new evidence of the toxicity of this chemical, the government moved to lower the exposure limit from 100 ppm to 1 ppm. Industry representatives in several government hearings took the position that lowering the standard from 100 ppm to 1 ppm was technically not feasible, would cause loss of jobs and jeopardize a vitally needed area of technology \(vinyl chloride Fortunately, the government agency persisted and the exposure level was lowered to the present 1 ppm. More than two decades later, what has been the effect of this stricter requirement which was originally posed in the context of reducing pollution versus a healthy economic base? I am pleased to say that no jobs were lost because of the improved standard, and with the introduction of newer engineering techniques the efficiency of industrial production resulted in increased profits. This is only one example of what seems in the short run to be an improvement of environmental quality at the expense of jobs and the ‘economy, leading to the advantage of both environmental quality and economic gain. In regard to air pollutants, we know that these pollutants cause a variety of illnesses, including respiratory problemsespe cially with the young, the old and those with existing health problems. The economic consequences of health care needed for treating victims of air pollution must also be considered. Although we often believe that industry opposes more government regulation, in many cases these regulations work to the benefit of industry. By the government setting practical standards, industry is given achievable criteria that may exonerate them from liability in the event of unanticipated toxic effects of specific chemicals. Sometimes regulatory agencies have overlapping jurisdictions and different guidelines which can complicate the regulation of chemicals. However, these regulations have profited both industry and the consumer for the most part. The United States frequently sets the standard in regulating chemicals for many industrialized nations. Strengthening the regulatory process for industrial chemicals benefits us all. The removal of lead from gasoline has resulted in a documented improvement in our health. The lower levels of benzene in gasoline will prevent many individuals from having cancer. These gains were made without appreciably increasing the cost of gasoline. The further reduction of harmful agents in gasoline and other pollutants will measurably improve our air quality. The federal clean air legislation, although far from perfect, will improve our air quality, and I predict it will do so without economic hardship. tripsthey tossed them to the hound dogs to “hush up” their yelping. Today, top executives of America’s biggest corporations have become “hushpuppy” specialists, cooking up all kinds of goodies to “hush up” their own boards of directors. You see, the corporate board is supposed to be a hard-nosed watchdog, yelping whenever management gets out of line. But too many boards have become executive lapdogs, way too pampered to bark atmuch less bitethe hand that feeds it. And these board members are fed a much richer dough than cornmeal. In a survey of America’s largest 200 industrial firms, Forbes magazine found that directors were averaging $700 an hour for their watchdog role. That’ll make a might big “hushpuppy.” At IBM, board members are paid $91,000 a year; $132,000 at GE…all the way up to $274,000 at Compaq Computer. Just for a few days work. Plus, 70 percent of the companies pay lavish pensions, many worth $40-$50-$100,000 a year. And it’s not uncommon for directors to get free medical and dental coveragefor life. And if that’s not enough to keep a board member fat and sleepy, companies also toss out other nasty tidbits. For example, General Motors’ directors get a new Cadillac every three months; and United Airlines provides unlimited first-class travel for its directors and their spouses. Aside from those paychecks, pensions and perks being an obvious conflict of interest for directors, they’re ultimately billed to…guess who? Us taxpayers! Every dollar is treated as a tax-deductible cost of business, meaning you and I subsidize this corporate extravagance. What a Bust Have you ever been to our nation’s Capitol building? The panoramic sweep of America’s glorious history is chronicled inside as you walk among statues and busts of such patriotic giants as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and, of course, Spiro T. Agnew. Agnew. The Rottweiler of American Politics? He was Richard Nixon’s own pet attack-dog, whose job was to snarl and snap at Tricky Dicky’s critics, calling them things like “nattering nabobs of negativism.” Agnew. The corrupt and disgraced vice president who finally was forced from office in 1973, under bribery charges? One and the samerecently honored with a $40,000 bust on a $10,000 pedestal, sculpted in white Italian marble, paid for by the taxpayers. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11