Do Alternative Autos Pollute? The 'Great Electric Car Debate'

Do Alternative Autos Pollute? The 'Great Electric Car Debate'

In the opinion-page article "Lead Pollution from Electric Cars? Look a Little Closer at the Facts," June 9, the author attacks a recent article published by three of our faculty that appeared in the journal Science. The Science article argued that the only battery technology available to power commercial electric autos is lead-acid batteries, that making large numbers of these batteries involves handling large quantities of lead, and that handling lead inevitably means that some gets lost to the environment.

The only industry-related support for the lead study was provided by a grant from IBM on product design for the environment and from the AT & T Foundation on battery life cycles. The study was part of the broad activities on the university's Green Design Initiative. A variety of research undertaken under this initiative is supported by industry sources.

All major research universities receive support from a wide variety of industrial sources. Carnegie Mellon is no exception. If the author wants to challenge the technical accuracy of our colleagues' article, he should submit his own detailed article to Science.

M. Granger Morgan and Richard G. Luthy Pittsburgh Carnegie Mellon University

The article lends yet another voice to the Great Electric Car Debate. This time it's some statistics that might lead the reader to conclude that an electric Karmann Ghia is 97 percent efficient, or a gas car is 3 percent efficient. These figures are hardly clarified by the rest of the article, which implies corporate meddling in a poorly conducted study about lead pollution and electric cars.

When we talk about improving the efficiency of private cars, we are really discussing incremental improvements to one of the least efficient transportation systems. Such revolutionary concepts as living and working in the same community, using public transportation, or even the trendy "telecommuting" will all produce more profound changes than simply tweaking the current system.

Coupled with the urban-suburban sprawl they have fostered, cars have created enormous problems. We will need to move well beyond lead-acid technology, or some other techno-fix, if we are serious about improving more than just our bottom lines.

Gary Pfaff Reston, Va.

I appreciate that the Monitor printed the author's response to the Carnegie Mellon University report that electric cars may be a lead hazard. The California Air Resources Board did a careful accounting several years ago comparing the overall pollution attributable to vehicles powered by internal combustion engines with that from electric vehicles and concluded that the electric vehicles caused far less harm, at least 90 percent less. After three years of commuting without an exhaust pipe, using off-peak power ("excess capacity") to recharge, without any motor maintenance (much fewer repairs) to do, I'm happy to be driving a clean electric car around town.

Jerry Jordan Portland, Ore.

Stop population growth with 'immigration ceiling'

The movement in Congress to reduce United States assistance for international population programs is indeed shortsighted, as pointed out in the article "Refugees Numbers Rising, But World Hospitality Falls," June 12. Reducing such funding will only serve to increase international population growth, further displacing individuals and increasing the potential for growing tides of refugees. Suggesting, however, that the US Commission on Immigration Reform's recent recommendation to reduce immigration is unwarranted does not follow. The US is not immune to overpopulation; our rising population and consumption habits are placing enormous stress on our environment in the form of widespread wetland loss, species extinction, and loss of farmland. Reducing fertility and reducing immigration are the two necessary steps in stabilizing the US population.

We can, and should, prevent the creation of refugees by funding programs to stop world population growth. At the same time, however, we must pursue an immigration policy designed to stop population growth in the US. An immigration ceiling that would admit 200,000 people a year - a number roughly equivalent to annual US emigration - is necessary to achieve that goal.

Mark W. Nowak Washington

Executive director

Population-Environment Balance

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