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Faster transition to electric vehicles needed, Lung Association says

Even before the current outbreak of wildfires, the greater Los Angeles area perennially experienced the worst air pollution in the nation.

The sprawling, automobile-centric region feeds smog into a geographic basin that often locks in the dirty air. The car and truck traffic also contribute to climate change, a primary contributor to the trend of ever-worsening wildfires and their impact on air quality.

While the state has led the country in aggressively regulating emissions — and sells more electric vehicles than all other states combined — those efforts aren’t enough, according to a new report by the American Lung Association, released late Monday, Sept. 14.

The study, “The Road to  Clean Air,” calls for the nation to transition to all zero-emission car sales by 2040, a move that would annually save tens of billions of dollars in health costs and avoid thousands of premature deaths by 2050. The proposal is far more dramatic than anything on the books in California.

“Without a doubt, California’s leadership on clean air is unmatched,” said Will Barrett, the lung association’s director of clean air advocacy, during a Monday press teleconference. “But, yes, we know we have a long way to go. California still has some of the most difficult challenges in the nation.”

The Los Angeles region was the smoggiest in the United States again last year, for the 20th time in the 21 annual surveys conducted by the Lung Association. The nation’s three worst counties were San Bernardino, Riverside and Los Angeles.

Transportation is the state’s biggest source of air pollution and disproportionately affects lower-income and minority neighborhoods, which tend to be closest to freeways. Transportation is also responsible for nearly 40% of the state’s greenhouse gases fueling global warming, according to the state Legislative Analyst’s Office. Those two negative outcomes are the targets of the Lung Association’s goal of 100% zero emission vehicles.

“Through a transition like this, we can virtually eliminate transportation’s contribution to air pollution and climate change,” Barrett said.

In the Los Angeles metro area, that would result in $14 billion in annual health benefits by 2050. It also would mean 1,239 premature deaths being averted and 16,300 asthma attacks avoided each year, according to the report’s modeling based on U.S. EPA reports and other national studies. Those statistics are nearly three times greater than those for the next smoggiest region, New York City, and four times greater than the third smoggiest region, the Bay Area.

San Diego and Sacramento are also on the top 16 list. California is the only state with more than one metro area on that tally.

History of auto regulations

California established its zero-emission vehicle program in 1990, eventually requiring large manufacturers to meet zero- and low-emission quotas for their passenger vehicles. The program has been modified several times, and the California Air Resources Board now estimates that 8% of all car sales will be zero emission or plug-in hybrids by 2025.

That’s a far cry from the 100% zero emission goal of the American Lung Association.

In 2018, the state set a goal to reduce greenhouse gases by 40% 2030. And it has been most aggressive in mandates for transportation other than passenger vehicles.

In 2018, the state required that transit agencies purchase only all-electric buses by 2029. In June, the Air Resources Board mandated that all new trucks and vans sold in the state must be zero emission by 2045. And in August, the board issued more stringent emissions standards for diesel trucks and new regulations that require ships to use more electric power while docked in port.

Meanwhile, the California Energy Commission gave a nod this month to another type of zero-emission vehicle when it approved funding for 12 new hydrogen stations in Los Angeles County and recommended 87 more stations statewide for future funding.

“The Road to Clean Air” makes additional recommendations for federal, state, local and individual actions. They range from a host of federal incentives and regulations to encouraging people to test drive zero-emission vehicles to supporting policies that accelerate the transition to those vehicles.

While calling for stricter policies, air quality advocates have been particularly critical of the Trump administration’s push to roll back regulations. Barrett took a thinly veiled jab at that trend on Monday.

“The U.S. EPA must follow the science,” he said. “States must be allowed to set higher emissions standards.”

The report also linked climate change to air quality issues.

“Our changing climate is contributing to worsening air quality in the form of extreme heat, drought and catastrophic wildfires. Increasing temperatures lead to greater formation of ground-level ozone pollution, and smoke from more frequent and intense wildfires contributes to particle pollution that can travel hundreds of miles,” it says.

Source: Orange County Register

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