rollover: the hidden history of the suv

erlichman to volpe�

Conversation with Sec. Volpe - April 30, 1971
V - Volpe
E - Ehrlichman
(Transcript provided by the Nixon Presidential Materials staff
at the National Archives.)

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V: There will be an avalanche, and I mean an avalanche, of protest in every newspaper in this country. I have absolutely no doubt we've postponed, as the letter we've sent to you pointed out, for a two year period listened to their complaints and their woes and done everything we possibly could to accommodate their requirements and we have allowed them to meet their goals in performance standards in several ways rather than the air bag. Now I suggest to you, John, very sincerely that I think the President and John Volpe and this Department particularly will receive some of the worst editorial comments that we have seen in this area because ... well, we've had plenty of them recently because we eased up on the farm (foreign?) drivers situation because of a great many requests and we're reviewing it again. We eased up in two or three other areas where industry convinces (?) like I mentioned to you on the bumper situation because industry convices (?) they couldn't meet the five miles an hour -- two and a half is the best they could do. We eased up on that and so forth and instead of getting patted on the back because we would establish a standard we got knocked because we supposedly got in bed with the manufacturers

E: Well, I appreciate that the Nader element is very ____________ with their public relations and with their access to the press. At the same time the controlling consideration here ... the two controlling considerations as far as the President's concerned are, first of all, the showing that was made to him that the idea is not a good idea -- number one and basic. Number two that we're dealing here with an industry which are basically our friends.

V: Not, Mr. Ford isn't your friend.

E: He sure is

V: Well, you know what he did in 1960 and what he did in 1964.

E: Yes sir, but I know where he is today. I know exactly where he is today. The point here is that pleasing Ralph Nader doesn't get us anything.

V: It isn't Ralph Nader I'm worried about. Christ, I've kicked him in the teeth several times. Ralph Nader doesn't bother me a damn bit. What I'm concerned about is the editorials of the newspapers of this nation.

E: Well, apparently, the President's willing to take that heat.

V: ...the President will take the heat, it's John Volpe, as you know, unless, of course, the story gets out ...won't get out from here, but these damn things have a way of leaking that we're ordered to do it.

E: Well, I have no doubt that that will be apparent before we're all done. The situation here though is not one of having any lattitude as far as I'm concerned. I have very definite instructions from the President on this and the only thing that I can do is reconfirm to you the thing that I said to Charley Baker the other day which was very clear that the President wanted the order suspended.

V: Well, John, I don't know what to say to you, I'm trying to do a job over here, as you know. I frankly don't think the President has both sides of the story. Maybe our letter wasn't as good as it should have been. I will admit that I was working on a hell of a lot of other things when I signed this letter,

E: Well, I don't think it's a question of that and I'm sure he doesn't want to get into a trial court situation where he has to sit and listen to both sides and then render a judgment for somebody and against somebody else.

V: It's a natural course, John.

E: It's a situation where people have come to him with a complaint where there's a very, very short time schedule. We're, what, three days away from the deadline

V: Yeah...but we had two years in which to do it.

E: Well, that may be,- but he feels that the selling was sufficiently strong that they should not be compelled to litigate that rather than that there should a suspensionary (?) order to obviate the necessity of litigating and that there should be a further examination of the problem because he doesn't feel that the solutions to which the bureau has come are reasonable solutions in the premises. Now, the bureau has a number of arguments, one of which interestingly enough in the memorandum, is that the manufacturers don't object to this. Well, we know from the personal representations of these top people that the manufacturers very vigorously do object to it.

V: Well, you and I know damn well, John, I was in industry I know how I fought occupational health hazard regulations on the part of the government.

E: Sure

V: And you're going to fight. In industry you fight for anything you can get.

E: Well, but there was an affirmative representation in the memorandum that just isn't borne out. Now that's a minor point.

V: After we modified it, John, I'll be very truthful with you, after we modified this and gave them...I spoke to Ed Cole about this at Fairfax (? ), he said if you can do it this way so that we're given the options and you can put this off until 1973 we can meet it.

E: Yeah, well.

V: Cole told me out there ...

E: I understand, but more recently both Ford and GM strongly... the point here is simply that the President has temporarily made his mind up at least through next Monday he does not want this order to remain in effect to compel these people to litigate. Now what happens after that I would say is an open question, but he definitely does want the order suspended as of today.

V: Well, is it possible, legally I can't determine, John, because I'm not a lawyer. But if we postpone the effective date for 30 days does that give the auto industry the additional 30 days and then give us a chance to further examine and present this case so that a decision can be made then to well, fine, we haven't made the case and the President decided this is the way he wants to go or that yes he's seen our side of the story

E: I don't know

V: Seen everything and so forth

E: I don't know the answer to that. That's something your General Counsel would have to tell you. The only thing I can put it in terms of is the end result which is

V: That you don't want the manufacturers to be able or have to go into court on Monday

E: That's correct

V: And if a postponement of 30 days prevents them from having to go into court on Monday that would give us a chance to see what can be worked out if anything can be worked out that will accommodate the situation without the kind of avalanche of protest that I'm sure will come down around our necks.

E: Well, the whole point here as far as the scope of my instructions is concerned is that I'm instructed to advise you that the President desires that the order be suspended . Now the reason for it is that he does not want them to be forced to litigate on Monday. The additional reason is that on the selling that has been made thus far he is persuaded that it is not a reasonable regulation. Now whether the suspension should be 30 days or indefinitely or permanently or what it should be I'm not prepared to say.

V: Well, let me check with my General Counsel, John, and I think that what the President decides can be accomplished by the postponement...in other words, they have to protect themselves within a certain time frame, right?

E: The Manufacturers?

V: That's correct. And as long as it's postponed and they have that additional 30 days beyond Monday which is the final day in which to enter a decree or judgment or

E: Well, as you say, that's a technical question and I just don't know the answer to it.

V: Well, I know what the President has asked you to do and you're carrying out his instructions. I personally think it's a mistake but I will comply with it and check with my General Counsel to see whether or not the 30 day suspension is valid and can be done.

E: Alright, then would ask him to just give us a call and let us know which way he plans to proceed.

V: Fine

E: Thank you.

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