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Take this billion and shove it.

Earlier in the year, the we-love-high-tech White House decided to create a billion-dollar project to fund the development of a clean car. Several environmentalists met with Henry Kelly, an assistant to White House science adviser John Gibbons, and asked the White House to define such a car. Kelly said he was still compiling information. Afterward, other White House aides unofficially told the greens that the Administration was contemplating handing Detroit $1 billion to produce a car that get 40 miles per gallon and meets emission standards mandated by the Clean Air Act through the late 1990s. That's hardly a technological breakthrough. One planning document explained that the big automakers need the aid because environmental regulations are too burdensome. Enter Al Gore. He told Gibbons and Kelly this was ludicrous. A clean car, he said, had to be in the 60 to 90 m.p.g. range and spew almost no emissions. Everything is taken care of, White House aides assured the environmentalists. More recently, the aides doubled back on the optimism. The Big Three automakers have told the White House they cannot commit beyond 40 m.p.g., but they are willing to accept the government's money. The White House, always eager for a deal, might accept a bad one and yield to Detroit. The environmentalists, cut out of the discussions, now wonder, Can the Administration be so dumb as to dish out $1 billion for a supposedly earth-friendly project that will be attacked by the Sierra Club and others?

Beware another technology initiative going awry. Clinton has proposed spending $18 billion over the next four years for the conversion of military production to the manufacture of civilian goods. But the major arms companies are pressing the Administration and Congress to use some of these funds - up to $5 billion - to subsidize overseas arms sales. There are no takers on the Hill - yet. As for the Administration, it has sent out conflicting signals. In May, Deputy Secretary of Defense William Perry warned that arms sales abroad were a "faint hope" for military firms looking to replace their Pentagon contracts. But at a June conference of defense companies, William Schneider, chairman of the State Department's Defense Trade Advisory Group, declared that the international market offered arms-makers fresh opportunities and in the past has been "less well exploited than possible." There are, he said, "grounds for optimism." Meanwhile, the Pentagon reports U.S. arms exports for 1993 are expected to hit a record high of $26.4 billion and might reach $30 billion. As if these guys really need help.

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Title Annotation:Beltway Bandits; funding for the development of an environmentally-clean car
Author:Corn, David
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:Column
Date:Jul 26, 1993
Previous Article:Sound of silence.
Next Article:Blood on the tracks.

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