In an unusual expression of detente between industry and environmentalists, General Motors and the Environmental Defense Fund announced yesterday that they had signed an agreement to hold formal discussions on environmental issues.
"Over the last 20 years, it's been each side preaching to the heathen on the other side," said Joseph Goffman, a lawyer with the environmental group. "We've decided to skip the great conversion speeches and talk about what we can talk about."
GM, the world's largest automaker, is at the center of a wide range of such environmental issues as urban smog, destruction of the ozone layer and the threat of global warming.
The Environmental Defense Fund, a New York-based non-profit group with 200,000 members, often sues polluters. In November, however, it negotiated an agreement with McDonald's Corp. under which, among other things, the fast-food company replaced its plastic packaging with biodegradable cardboard.
The dialogue with GM required a formal agreement, said Samuel Leonard, GM's director of automotive emissions control, so that the environmentalists "could not be accused of selling out."
The agreement specifies that the environmental group will not accept funds from GM and that GM cannot publicize the dialogue in advertising, marketing or point-of-purchase materials without the group's permission. The fund would be unlikely to give such permission, Mr. Goffman said.
Informal collaboration has been going on since January and already has produced a proposal presented to the federal Environmental Protection Agency on running a program for scrapping old cars.
In November, President Bush proposed such a program, which would give a company facing a requirement to cut air pollution at a factory it owned the alternative of buying old, high-pollution cars, scrapping them and taking credit against other obligations to cut pollution.
GM and the Environmental Defense Fund have said that their joint proposal is better than either could have come up with on its own.
The Environmental Defense Fund proposed that the pollution-reduction credit be limited to 90 percent of the actual reduction.
GM, Mr. Leonard said, had added a provision that would have required that the vehicles to be scrapped be selected by actual measurement of tailpipe emissions rather than simply by the cars' age.
The two sides plan to discuss ways to encourage the use of clean vehicles that run on fuels other than gasoline, ways to measure automotive emissions, the cost-effectiveness of new fuels and new standards on vehicle emissions, the role of vehicles in global warming and the impact of regulatory requirements on vehicle design.
But they will avoid some long-standing areas of dispute, including fuel economy standards and installing larger canisters on cars to filter the polluting gases that evaporate from fuel tanks.
"We will have to use more traditional methods to solve those," Mr. Leonard said, alluding to lobbying in Congress and arguing before the administrative agencies and the courts.