It’s past time for cleaner cars on Arizona roadways

March 9, 2021 12:24 pm

Photo by b k | Flckr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Worsening air pollution is rampant across the nation, with the crisis especially acute in much of the West, including Arizona. There are myriad causes of our pollution emergency, but the largest contributor to the dirty air we breathe comes from the transportation sector. Now, more than ever, we need effective strategies to limit vehicular pollution, particularly in communities that are near roadways.

Transportation pollution is clearly impacting our changing climate, and it also worsens the effects of COVID-19, which attacks respiratory function. Death rates from COVID-19 are much higher for those with pre-existing conditions such as asthma, which can be triggered by air pollution.

Just as the COVID-19 crisis was taking hold last year, the Trump administration made the reckless decision to abandon federal clean car standards, allowing auto manufacturers to veer away from building cleaner cars and trucks. The rollback assured that vehicular pollution would continue clogging our air as commuters traveled across I-10 and throughout the Valley.

Continued pollution from cars and trucks, including heavy-duty vehicles, worsens air quality and threatens our health. In Maricopa County alone, more than 340,000 adults and 80,000 children suffer from asthma, according to an American Lung Association study. That same group awarded Maricopa County with an “F” in its annual county-by-county air-quality grades.

Federal clean-car standards were one of the most effective policies we had on the books, not only to address pollution from the transportation sector, but to combat the broader climate-change crisis, which has made extreme weather events like heat waves, wildfires, and flooding more frequent and intense. In my city of Tempe, the transportation sector accounts for half of our community greenhouse gas emissions. Climate neutrality is a pipe dream without cleaner cars. 

Cleaner cars and trucks will not only improve public health, but will spark our economy and create jobs through a transition to cleaner and pollution-free vehicles. Before the rollback, clean-car standards were spurring innovation across the transportation sector. Thousands of good jobs in science, research, and manufacturing were created to support investments in advanced vehicle components and technology. Nationwide, 288,000 jobs are associated with clean-vehicle technologies. Arizona could expect 9,700 new jobs by 2030 if strong clean car standards are in place. The benefits are tangible for both the U.S. economy and individual households, which were expected to save thousands on gas bills as we transitioned to electric vehicles.

Now is the time to roll back the rollback. The Biden administration has already demonstrated a deep commitment to addressing the climate-change crisis, making decisions based on science with the intent to protect and improve public health. In just one month, President Joe Biden has signed multiple forward-thinking executive orders and nominated leaders who will work tirelessly to tackle the root causes of climate change, including those stemming from transportation. It is heartening to see an administration’s clear commitment to investing in clean Infrastructure and other initiatives to address the climate emergency.

We now need the U.S. Congress to do its part to tackle this existential threat. That starts with a commitment to bolstering the transition to a clean economy and pollution-free cars, trucks, buses, and other heavy-duty vehicles. Our leaders in Washington, including Arizona Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, understand the devastating effect climate change is having on Arizona, particularly driven by vehicle pollution. Now is the time for Congress to act. 

As we tackle the interwoven crises of the COVID-19 and climate change, it is imperative that our leaders champion Biden administration efforts to reinstate the clean-car standards and other actions that help pave the way for investments in zero-emissions cars and trucks. 

We can no longer afford to be stuck in reverse.

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Lauren Kuby
Lauren Kuby

Lauren Kuby is serving her second term on the Tempe City Council. She is a longtime advocate for worker protections, equity, and climate-change action and is recognized as a national champion for cities as incubators of innovation.