Driving Away Dirty Air

September 16, 2021 | 1:15 pm
Akash Singh
Western States Policy Advocate

Oregon’s charge to reduce air pollution

Emissions from diesel trucks and buses don’t just release higher levels of air pollution, they are also local in their effects. Such effects disproportionately impact low-income Oregonians, Oregonians of color, and Oregonians who live in communities located next to ports, industrial infrastructure, and roadways with heavy industrial truck traffic.  Industry actors and policymakers have for far too long embraced environmental racism and sacrificed such communities to industrial profits. 

Oregon has almost 380,500 medium and heavy duty trucks and they are responsible for roughly 9.3 million metric tons of annual greenhouse gas emissions in the state. These trucks travel over 6.6 billion miles, consume almost 800 million gallons of fossil fuels, and are responsible for 70% of NOx emissions and 64% of PM emissions in the state. These emissions have real and lasting consequences for the public health and well-being of all Oregonians.

Oregonians will have two tools to address the noxious emissions produced by the freight industry that disproportionately affect frontline communities and communities of color if the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission adopts two new rules later this year: the Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) and Low NOx Omnibus (Low NOx) Rules. These rules can work together to overhaul Oregon’s medium and heavy-duty trucks and reduce the nitrogen oxide (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) pollution actively harming the health and lived environments of all Oregonians. 

Air pollution disproportionately harms low income communities and communities of color

Exposure to PM pollution can cause and or contribute to heart attacks, irregular heartbeats, increase asthma severity, impair proper lung function, aggravate respiratory problems, and induce premature fatalities in people with preexisting cardiovascular and or pulmonary conditions. Children and adults with preexisting cardiovascular and or pulmonary conditions are particularly at risk. Diesel exhaust is particularly harmful, as it contains about 40 organic compounds that are highly carcinogenic.

Ground-level NOx pollution can contribute to lung tissue damage and impair proper lung function. Particle NOx pollution can do the same and also cause premature death, with some smaller particles also being capable of aggravating existing lung and heart diseases.

In “an industrial neighborhood of west Eugene, Oregon, the predominantly Latin[x] and low-income residents are exposed to 99% of all of Eugene’s air toxins.” Groups in the community also report that the rate of “childhood asthma rates in the Bethel School District were almost double those of other neighborhoods”. Localized NOx and PM emissions reduction strategies are a useful tool in targeting such disproportionate pollution burdens on environmental justice communities and can have substantial near-term environmental, economic, and public health benefits.

Oregon clean trucks are a part of the solution

A new UCS study developed in partnership with the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and MJ Bradley examined the impact of adopting new clean truck rules in Oregon and determined that the ACT and Low NOx rules together can yield substantial health benefits to Oregonians. A decrease in over 150 premature deaths, more than 100 hospital visits, and more than 80,000 minor health cases like bronchitis and asthma. This represents over $1.8 billion in cumulative public health cost savings for Oregonians from 2040-2050. 

The savings don’t stop there. Oregonians will benefit from an estimated $2 billion in net annual social benefits and save between $112-178 million on their annual electricity bills. Almost 800 new, well-paying jobs will have an annual pay increase of approximately $39,000 by 2035 and $29,000 by 2045. These rules are projected to increase Oregon’s GDP by approximately $79 million by 2035, save medium and heavy duty truck fleets $1.1 billion, and cut Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions from trucks in half by 2050.

The ACT and Low NOx Rules on their own will not deliver an Oregon that is livable, breathable and in which Oregonians can live, thrive, and build community. But they are an important step to achieving a climate not on perpetual fire are at our disposal. The tools to build an environment in which our children can play outside without being exposed to air pollution are at our disposal. The tools to build a world in which low-income communities and communities of color are not being disproportionately harmed by environmental degradation are at our disposal. What we need now and more than ever before, is the political will to utilize these tools and stem the tide of climate change. 

Oregonians deserve a future not on perpetual fire. Let’s build it.

EDITORIAL UPDATE – 9/16/21 3:01 PM A correction was made to a previous version of this blog incorrectly naming the Natural Resources Defense Council as the National Resources Defense Council. The correction has been issued