Most Americans think of AAA as a helpful service organization that provides its members with free towing and travel maps. But according to the cover story in the Winter 2001 issue of The Amicus Journal, the automobile association is a multibillion-dollar insurance business with a pronounced anti-environmental agenda. "AAA pretends to be a consumer advocate, but my research led me to conclude that it has fought virtually every proposal that would lead to cleaner air and a healthier environment," says Michael A. Rivlin, author of the Amicus story, "The Secret Life of AAA." "Iím sure that would come as a surprise to its 43 million members."
The Amicus story reveals that over the last decade, AAA vigorously opposed legislation and technology that would improve air quality and save lives. For example, the association opposed:
The 1990 Clean Air Act: AAA asserted in a press release that the bill would "threaten the personal mobility of millions of Americans and jeopardize needed funds for new highway construction and safety improvements."
Stronger Air Quality Standards: AAA opposed EPAís 1997 proposal to reduce the allowable amount of smog and soot in the air. EPA estimated the new rules would prevent 15,000 premature deaths and 350,000 cases of asthma every year.
Vapor Traps: AAA called this air pollution control device a safety hazard.
Stronger Tailpipe Emissions Standards: In September, 1999, AAA issued a report, "Clearing the Air," that claimed cars are "no longer a major contributor to ozone-causing emissions." AAA released the report as the Environmental Protection Agency was considering plans to tighten tailpipe emission standards to reduce automobile pollution.
Airbags: AAA opposed regulations mandating automakers to install airbags in cars.
Meanwhile, the associationís solution for traffic congestion is to build more roads -- despite the fact that land-use planners say new roads worsen congestion by spurring new real estate development, which in turn attracts even more drivers.
Rivlinís investigation also found that AAA is a prominent member of the American Highway Users Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group that is largely supported by road-builders, automakers, and oil companies. Highway Users lobbies for more federal funding for highway construction and maintenance projects at the expense of public transit, sidewalks, and bicycle paths.
AAAís lobbying activities, which it does not reveal to its members, are self-serving, Rivlin found. Every year the organization and its affiliated clubs sell $6 billion in insurance policies, $2.4 billion worth of travelerís checks, and $3.4 billion worth of travel agency services. "By pursuing the same goals as the auto, oil, and road-building industries, AAA benefits directly," says Rivlin. "The more cars on the road, and the more roads for those cars, the more revenue AAA earns."
The Amicus Journal is a quarterly magazine published by, but editorially independent of, the Natural Resources Defense Council, a national environmental organization with more than 400,000 members.
Written by: Natural Resources Defense Council
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