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Friday, Jun 9, 2023

Environmental Legal Duo Take Over Emissions Firm

Ed Masry and Erin Brockovich, who took Pacific Gas & Electric to the cleaners for its role in contaminating groundwater in the renowned case that became the subject of a major motion picture, are about to take on the ills of air pollution, this timey by launching a company whose product line targets engine emissions. Masry, an attorney and Brockovich, director of research for Westlake Village law firm Masry & Vititoe, along with a former CFO of the firm, Eugene E. Eichler, have taken over management of Save the World Air Inc. (STWA), a six-year-old company that is developing devices to reduce toxic emissions caused by motor vehicle engines. The company’s first product, CAT-MATE, targets emissions from two-and three-wheel vehicles, such as motorcycles and mopeds commonly used in developing countries, and STWA plans to market the device to Southeast Asia and other developing nations where these types of vehicles have created severe pollution and health problems. “What we’re doing right now is we’re going to the actual countries and attempting to get the countries to mandate the use of our product,” said Masry, the company’s chairman and CEO, who has invested about $500,000 in STWA. STWA, which is being managed out of the Masry & Vititoe offices with labs and testing facilities in North Hollywood, has engaged Rand Corp. and Temple University to assist with testing several devices on the company’s drawing board. In addition to CAT-MATE, STWA is working on a Zero-Emission Fuel-Saving device, ZEFS, that would cut emissions for four-wheel automotive vehicles, and technology designed to cut the cost of refining oil. The company has spent a little more than $12.2 million since its inception and officials say they hope to raise at least $3.5 million in capital from private and venture capital sources for the research underway, a funding round that would allow STWA to continue its activities for another 24 months. As of its most recent financial report for the quarter ended June 30, the company has raised about $500,000 in its most recent round. “Subsequent to September 30 we received several hundred thousand dollars, in addition and we have commitments beyond that,” Eichler said. “We have some environmental venture capital funds in New York looking seriously at a substantial investment, and we’re confident we will raise the required capital.” Founded by inventor STWA was founded by Jeffrey Muller, an inventor who has since been accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of “carrying out a fraudulent promotional campaign” to promote the company’s stock, according to SEC documents. The SEC investigation into Muller, who is believed to be in Australia, is continuing, but the agency has relieved the current management of STWA of liability, and STWA has filed its own complaint against Muller, seeking among other things to get back his shares in the company. “I’m confident all our requests will be granted by the federal court because it’s the right thing to do,” said Masry, who joined STWA late in 2001, shortly before the SEC investigation began. Eichler joined a short time later, and Brockovich came on board last summer as vice president for environmental affairs. “I’ll act as official spokesperson, and as we get CAT-MATE ready to go you’ll see greater involvement from me,” said Brockovich. While countries worldwide struggle with the effects of air pollution caused by motor vehicles, the problems caused by two- and three-wheel vehicles, are especially onerous. They account for almost 1.1 billion pounds of hydrocarbon emissions annually and contribute to an estimated 38 million respiratory ailments around the world each year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And two-and three-wheel vehicles are especially prevalent in Asia and other developing countries, believed to account for more than 70 percent of vehicular fleets in Asian cities, according to the Centre for Science and Environment an activist group in India. “Two-stroke engines are notorious air pollution generators,” said Joseph Devinny, professor of environmental engineering at USC. “(Asian countries) have not made much effort toward air pollution control in the past, and they do have a lot of these small engines in little vehicles, all quite appropriate for the small streets.” But many caution that encouraging these companies to adopt these types of devices may not be that easy. For one thing, fuel emission standards in these countries lag behind the U.S., said Michael P. Walsh, a well-known international consultant and author in the area of vehicle-related pollution. “And (Asian cities) have a uniquely high population of 2 and 3 wheelers, many of which have highly polluting 2-stroke engines, which have not yet been controlled to the same degree as cars,” Walsh said. One major problem is cost. STWA has not yet determined what its devices will cost, and officials say they are hopeful that the governments of these countries will defray the cost of adopting the devices. Officials are currently meeting with government officials in these countries in hopes of gaining their support for these devices. But for many of those who drive these vehicles in Asia and other countries, subsidies may not be enough. “In these countries the people don’t have a lot of money,” said Matthew Barth, director of the College of Engineering Center for Environmental Research and Technology at UC Riverside. “They’re barely scraping together enough money to buy some kind of transport. So the only improvement comes from the government level, and it’s not very successful.”

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