Dear EPA: Four Very Personal Reasons Why Clean Cars Matter

January 7, 2014 | 6:12 pm
Michelle Robinson
Former Contributor

I work with very smart people, engineers and scientists who understand the emissions benefits of cutting pollution from our tailpipes and gasoline, and the technology necessary to get there. Our work helped enact the last round of standards to cut tailpipe pollution in the late ‘90s and has been influential in the development of a new round of requirements, referred to as Tier 3. These standards are set to be finalized early in 2014.

We are good at making the case for policy based on the best science by crunching the numbers, but reducing air pollution from cars and trucks is not just a numbers game. Yes, the numbers are impressive: according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the proposed standards would prevent up to 2,400 premature deaths, 3,200 hospital admissions and 22,000 asthma attacks each year and by 2030, Tier 3 will result in up to $23 billion in annual health care savings.

But most importantly, those numbers represent real people with real health issues living in communities suffering from ongoing pollution problems. Last fall, we asked UCS supporters to write to the editors of their local newspapers about why cleaner cars and fuel matters to their families and their communities. Hundreds of people from all over the country responded with very personal reasons why strengthened clean car and fuel standards are important to them. Here are just a few of their stories.

Congested Freeways = Congested Lungs

Ria Tanz Kubota of El Sobrante, California and her daughter and grandson all live in an area surrounded by packed freeways and oil refineries. The other thing they have in common is that they all suffer from asthma. As Ria put it in her letter in the Contra Costa Times,

“The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Tier 3 air quality standards could save our lives and the lives of the children in our area. The oil industry would try to convince the very citizens its pollution sickens that it can’t afford Tier 3 standards — at 1 cent per gallon of gas…

Our kids deserve to breathe more than oil companies deserve one penny more profit.”

inhaler Unfortunately, air pollution problems aren’t isolated to the refinery communities of California, but rather face Americans from coast to coast. As Albert Collins of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania wrote about the air quality challenges in his home county,

“As a native Pittsburgher and an asthmatic, I hope that the EPA will pass the tier III gasoline standards to make our air cleaner and healthier… Allegheny County fails to meet federal air quality standards, threatening our health and especially that of the most vulnerable. I stand with the automakers, labor unions, consumer groups, public health and science advocates who support steps to clean up one of the primary causes of dirty air: the cars and trucks we drive every day.”

Toxic Seasons

Kent O’Quinn of Salt Lake City, Utah should be enjoying a winter wonderland in and around his home but instead he had this to say about the particular air pollution challenges his community faces,

“Every winter, when the temperatures and temperaments are at their lowest points, we find ourselves struggling to breathe the very air around us. We know this toxic cloud as “the inversion,” and have come to simply take it for granted, like it’s a perfectly natural and manageable thing. It is neither.

The oil companies have the technology to dramatically clean up the pollution caused by cars, a major contributor to our ever browner and more hazardous inversions.”

Inversion over Salt Lake City. Credit: Flickr user Tim Brown

Inversion over Salt Lake City. Credit: Flickr user Tim Brown

Prescription for Cleaner Air

Doctors and health experts in Utah and across the country are working every day to limit pollution from our vehicles and fuels, and that’s why health professionals are leading supporters of the Tier 3 standards.

Dr. Leng Ky, an anesthesiologist who lives in San Diego sees the impact of air pollution every day in his work, but he also sees the promise of reducing emissions through cleaner vehicle and fuel technology. As he explained,

“We are on the cusp a new age in the automobile, Tesla has produced an expensive but truly impressive luxury sedan, Nissan has a very good commuter car in the Leaf, and even the Volt is a reasonable electric choice. On the horizon are better electrics and plug-ins which will bring the cost down and increase the visibility.

These advances will be substantially hindered if we backpedal on tailpipe emissions and lower our standards for gasoline. As a physician who takes care of patients daily with respiratory diseases, I know how much more difficult it is on the patient when the air quality is poor. If we can improve the air on a daily basis all the people I take care of will literally breathe easier.”

Tell Your Story

These are just a few among hundreds of personal reasons why swift finalization of these standards must be a priority for policy-makers. You can add your voice tomorrow, when EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy takes to twitter to talk about the impacts of air pollution on our families. If you follow the hash tag #cleanairmoms at 2 pm EST on Wednesday, January 8, you can ask Administrator McCarthy about how EPA is working to move ahead with key pollution-cutting programs like Tier 3, and share your personal story. You can also write a letter directly to Administrator McCarthy, at any time, calling on EPA to put Tier 3 into action.

EPA has a chance to start the new year with a real victory for clean air and public health. Strong clean car and fuel standards will make a critical difference in the lives of many struggling with the impact of pollution on their families and communities.