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New Auto Emissions Standards Could Save $19 Billion in Health Care Costs
By Peter Lehner
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
When I worked for the City of New York, I often asked people what they felt was the worst environmental problem. Many said tailpipe pollution. Emissions from the tailpipes of cars and trucks seemed particularly insulting because—as we all walked our kids to school—the tailpipes seemed to be spewing black smoke just at the level of our kids’ heads.
Our cars and trucks have become a lot cleaner since then, but exhaust from vehicle tailpipes is still a major source of air pollution, responsible for up to 45 percent of soot and smog-forming pollution in many areas of the country. Air pollution still sends thousands of kids and adults to the emergency room every year with asthma attacks or breathing difficulty, and keeps hundreds of thousands more home from school or work; it can even shorten the lives of people with heart or lung trouble. The latest set of tailpipe and clean gasoline standards announced today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will help reduce smog and soot and clear the air for millions of Americans, saving thousands of lives and up to $19 billion in health costs each year.
The EPA’s new standards will reduce the amount of sulfur in gasoline by two-thirds. This will have an immediate impact on air quality. Sulfur, in addition to being a source of air pollution, builds up in your car’s exhaust system and makes emissions control less effective. When every gas-powered car on the road fills up with cleaner, lower-sulfur gasoline, they’ll all start running cleaner—even older vehicles. Smog-forming pollution is expected drop by 260,000 tons by 2018, a year after the new standards take effect--that’s the equivalent of replacing roughly 30 million of today’s cars with zero-emission vehicles.
With less sulfur in the fuel tank to gum up the works, automakers can move ahead with cleaner engines and exhaust systems optimized for cleaner gasoline. Vehicles built in 2017 and beyond will produce 80 percent less smog-forming pollution and 70 percent less particle pollution, or soot, than cars built under today’s tailpipe standards. Soot is a particularly harmful type of air pollution, because very tiny particles can lodge deep in the lungs or even enter the bloodstream. It’s been linked to premature death, heart attacks, aggravated asthma and other heart and lung problems.
The American public has expressed strong support for the new standards, which will prevent, according to EPA estimates, as many as 2,000 premature deaths each year, as well as thousands of hospital visits and 1.4 million days of missed work, school absences, or activity restrictions. By 2030, these standards will save Americans anywhere from $6.7 billion to $19 billion in health costs each year. The additional cost for cleaner gasoline will be less than a penny a gallon.
Automakers, eager to move forward with more clean car technologies, support the new standards as well. The oil industry, however, has been a major roadblock against getting these standards through, protesting that meeting them would be prohibitively expensive. But analysis from the EPA, and even some oil industry analysts, showed their numbers didn’t add up.
The oil industry voiced similar concerns about earlier sulfur reductions, which were achieved successfully, as well objecting to the removal of lead from gasoline, which NRDC began advocating for in the 1970s. Lead standards, which NRDC helped push through in the U.S.and then worked to expand globally, have effectively gotten rid of lead in gasoline around the world, resulting in a remarkable 90 percent drop in blood lead levels globally, and an estimated $2.4 trillion in annual health, societal and economic benefits. This is truly amazing public health victory, achieved at a fraction of the cost the industry claimed.
Like removing lead from gasoline, reducing sulfur and tailpipe emissions is an important win for clean air and public health. Clearing the air of lung-damaging pollution will save thousands of lives. It means fewer trips to the emergency room with an acute asthma attack or irregular heartbeat; fewer days when asthmatic kids can’t go outside and play.
These are cost-effective, health-protective standards that will produce real benefits for millions of Americans who can look forward to breathing cleaner air.
This post was originally posted on the NRDC's Switchboard Blog.
Visit EcoWatch’s TRANSPORTATION page for more related news on this topic.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Julia Conley
Climate campaigners on Friday expressed hope that policymakers who are stalling on taking decisive climate action would reconsider their stance in light of new warnings from an unlikely source: two economists at J.P. Morgan Chase.
Tensions are continuing to rise in Canada over a controversial pipeline project as protesters enter their 12th day blockading railways, demonstrating on streets and highways, and paralyzing the nation's rail system
Colorado River Has Lost 1.5 Billion Tons of Water to the Climate Crisis, 'Severe Water Shortages' May Follow
California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.
The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.
"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."
While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.
The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.
"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.
Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.
"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.
NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.
As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.
"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.
The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.
"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."
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