GM to Public: Mercury Switches in GM Clunkers ‘Not Our Problem’ Anymore

I understand that bankruptcy laws provide strong protections for the “new” GM against obligations incurred by the “old” GM, but this is ludicrous and short-sighted.

Perhaps the folks collecting “old” GM-manufactured mercury switches from these “cash-for-clunkers” cars should simply deliver the switches to the “new” GM HQ at the Renaissance Center in Detroit…. Either that or drop them off at local GM dealerships.

A little adverse publicity, and I suspect that it wouldn’t take long for the “new” GM to reverse course and be a good corporate citizen again!

A “new” GM spokesperson is quoted below as saying that GM (the “new” one) “has never produced vehicles with mercury switches and has no mercury switch responsibility under the terms of the bankruptcy court order.” That’s a statement only a lawyer or a government bureaucrat could love.  Unfortunately for the future of the Motor City (and the “new” GM), General Motors is now owned by the federal government and run by lawyers….

GM says mercury pollution not its problem anymore

Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Ken Thomas / Associated Press

Washington — As hundreds of thousands of clunkers head to the scrap yard, General Motors Co. has dropped out of a partnership that collects toxic parts from recycled automobiles to prevent mercury pollution.

Participants in the environmental program told the Associated Press the timing of GM’s departure could undermine their work. The government’s “cash-for-clunkers” program will lead to trade-in and recycling of an estimated 750,000 vehicles, some of which contain mercury switches.

GM said its new company is not a member of the partnership because it no longer makes vehicles with mercury switches and is not responsible for the older vehicles. The old company, which is still under bankruptcy court supervision, said it is reviewing agreements involving the former company and declined to comment.

Roughly 36 million mercury switches were used in trunk convenience lights and anti-lock brakes in vehicles built in the 1980s and 1990s. More than half of them are in GM vehicles built before 2000.

Mercury released into the air can accumulate in plants, fish and humans. Children and fetuses are vulnerable to the effects of the toxic metal, which can damage the development of the nervous system.

The auto industry partnership, called the End of Life Vehicle Solutions Corp., or ELVS, was created in 2005 to prevent mercury emissions from being released into the environment when vehicles are crushed and shredded. It works closely with the National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program, which the Environmental Protection Agency helped form with automakers, the steel industry and environmentalists in 2006.

The program, which is scheduled to run until 2017, has recovered 2.5 million switches and disposed of nearly 5,600 pounds of mercury. General Motors, prior to its bankruptcy, was the group’s largest participant and informed the partnership of the change last week.

Mary Bills, the partnership’s executive director, said GM has not paid its dues since filing for bankruptcy. Its annual bill is $700,000 to $1 million, a substantial portion of the program’s funding. Without GM’s payments, the organization may be forced to scale back or cease operations, making it more difficult for recyclers to dispose of mercury recovered under the $3 billion “cash-for-clunkers” program and other recycled vehicles in the future, she said.

We’re surprised that GM, who wants to have this great, green image, would do this,” Bills said.

General Motors Co., 60.8 percent owned by the U.S. government, emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last month under a plan in which its best-performing assets were sold to form a new company. The former company, now called Motors Liquidation Co., is a conglomeration of GM’s liabilities and underperforming assets that remains under court supervision.

GM spokeswoman Sharon Basel said GM’s former entity remains a member of the partnership. The new automaker, however, “has never produced vehicles with mercury switches and has no mercury switch responsibility under the terms of the bankruptcy court order,” Basel said.

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