PTI – In 2020, Let’s Talk More About Air Pollution

Photo: Al Seib, Los Angeles Times

By Miro Korenha and Monica Medina

Pardon the interruption from the constant conversation about the stock market, impeachment and conflict in the Middle East.  We’d like to talk about something completely different.  2020 is the 50th anniversary of the passage of one of our nation’s bedrock environmental laws — the Clean Air Act.  This week clean air got a tiny bit of airtime. The Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives laid out a relatively progressive plan to address our nation’s dirty air as part of their solution to the climate crisis.  And most of the Democratic Presidential candidates have detailed climate action plans that commit to cleaning up our nation’s air pollution problems, particularly in frontline communities.  Even President Trump took a few minutes this week during a White House event touting his administration’s aversion to preparing for climate change to talk about clean air. In answer to a question about whether he thinks climate change is a hoax, the President pivoted to air quality and said, “I want clean air…I want the cleanest air… The environment is very important to me.”

And on that simple point, we can – just this once — agree with him.  We too want the cleanest air because it is important to all of us.  What a difference four years makes.  Clean air wasn’t even a blip on the radar screen four years ago.  But President Trump’s pathetic climate change dodge begs the question — are air pollution issues getting the attention they deserve from politicians and the press today?  The answer is no.  Clean air, it seems, is like eating your spinach — improving it will make us stronger, but no one wants to talk about it  – at least not on TV.

We need to change the subject to the air to clear the air.

According to the Journal of American Medicine:

“Many epidemiologic data support the association between ambient air pollution and all-cause mortality and morbidity, mainly from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, particularly in the elderly, infants, pregnant women, and people with comorbidities. In addition, air pollution has been related to higher risks for lung cancer and allergic diseases.”

According to a recent Harvard study, air pollution is literally killing us and in the process, is driving up healthcare costs for all Americans. In this election year, we can’t afford NOT to talk about the state of our air.  The main issue in democratic debates so far – healthcare – is intrinsically linked to air pollution.  From candidates vying to become our city council members to our elected officials in Congress and especially the President of the United States, cracking down on air pollution should be an issue they’re talking about regularly and earnestly.

In our most polluted cities, air pollution is so bad that it’s the equivalent of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day—that’s something all lawmakers should vow to address on Day 1.

Maybe a good way to get the conversation started is to talk about something that all Americans love.  Cars.  We could talk about electric cars.  And electric trucks – like the cool “cybertruck” Elon Musk built at Tesla that sold out in a hot minute.  And the electric trucks that Ford and GM plan to make – in factories in the U.S.A.  What would it take to make all of us excited about them?  Can we really envision a time when that’s what we all drive?  Experts believe that by 2030, most new vehicles – cars and trucks – will be electric.

Then we also need better batteries and charging stations to keep them running – but those advancements are not yet ready to go. The cost and red tape associated with these advances – the very sorts of things President Trump wants to speed up for his friends in the fossil fuel business – things like permitting and financing for electric vehicle charging infrastructure — have been an impediment to their growth.  We need leaders to take these challenges seriously and to put forth bold plans to help electric vehicle infrastructure flourish. It’s the future we all deserve but it will take political will and leadership to go from zero to 60 to make these changes on our roads and in our lives.

There is a Democratic Presidential debate on Tuesday – and we urge the moderators to talk about clean air.  We hope they will ask the candidates about how they plan to deal with air pollution generally and electric vehicles specifically.   Questions like:

  • How much exactly are they willing to spend on infrastructure for clean cars?
  • Are they willing to speed permitting and cut other red tape slowing its implementation?
  • How will they work to bring back auto jobs and ensure that the U.S. leads the world on electric vehicle manufacturing?
  • Should states have the right to set tougher standards than the federal government for clean air and auto emissions?
  • How will they reign in the oil and gas lobby to stop holding back progress on clean cars specifically and air pollution more generally?

All Americans want “crystal clear” air.  The one thing’s that is crystal clear, however, is that we need to change our leadership at the top in order to get it.

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