Commentary

Now, more than ever, is the time to adopt clean car standards, not allow more pollution

April 8, 2020 6:00 am

Robots assemble a 3.5 liter engine at the Ford Engine Plant on March 28, 2014 in Lima, Ohio. The company announced plans to build a new 2.7 liter Ecoboost engine at the Ford Engine Plant. (Photo by Mark Lyons/Getty Images) The engines provide improved fuel efficiency.

Hundreds of doctors, nurses, and other health professionals are on the front lines in hospitals across Minnesota treating COVID-19 patients, who are fighting for breath and life. At the same time, the federal government is in the process of pulling back life and breath-saving standards for vehicle emissions. The Trump administration recently finalized a proposal that will roll back progress made on tailpipe emissions standards and allow more air pollutants that harm human health. We can’t backtrack on air pollution standards — critical public health protections — in the midst of an unprecedented health and economic crisis.

Some of the groups at highest risk for severe effects from the coronavirus are those who are most at risk from short and long-term exposure to air pollution — people with asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; people older than 65; and people with cardiovascular disease. Long-term exposure to air pollutants is detrimental to health for anyone and can lead to hospitalizations from pneumonia, lung and heart diseases and cause an early death. 

Transportation is the largest source of climate-change causing pollution, and on-road vehicles contribute to 24% of air pollution emissions in Minnesota. Communities of color, Indigenous communities and low-income families are disproportionately affected by air pollution and have the highest exposure to on-road vehicle pollution because of where they live. Reducing dangerous tailpipe emissions from cars and trucks helps improve air quality for these communities and protects the health of all Minnesotans. 

If Washington won’t lead, Minnesota will. Under the leadership of Gov. Tim Walz, Minnesota is in the process of adopting clean car standards, a move that will improve public health requiring the auto companies to provide consumers more choice and opportunity to buy electric, hybrid and low emission vehicles. Which in turn will cut the amount of harmful chemicals in the air we breathe. Minnesota’s goal is to have 20% of passenger vehicles be electric by 2030, and clean car standards will help us get there. Current estimates predict that by implementing these standards alone, we will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2 million tons by 2030. The Trump administration’s proposal has shown that states must take this kind of action to protect their residents. 

Simply put, cleaner car standards save lives. I urge Minnesotans to condemn the Trump administration’s rollback of important protections and support clean cars in our state. Minnesotans want to breathe fresh air and reduce vehicle pollution in our communities. Washington isn’t going to lead us there, but clean car standards in our state will.

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Kathleen Schuler
Kathleen Schuler

Kathleen Schuler is a member of the executive committee of Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate, a 500-plus member organization of health professionals dedicated to protecting human health from the impacts of our changing climate. She is also a strategic advisor to Safer States. Ms. Schuler previously served as co-director of Healthy Legacy, a public health coalition working to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals in consumer products.

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