When Americans face a challenge, we adapt. We innovate. We step up and make the world better. As nurses, we take pride in the creative ways health care continues to improve and treat our patients’ most challenging illnesses.
So we wonder, why is the Environmental Protection Agency proposing a rule that will be a gigantic step backward for public health? Rolling back vital clean air and climate protections will reverse progress toward cleaner air. Unfortunately, leadership at both the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are doing just that by starting a process to gut clean car standards.
Historically, standards under the Clean Air Act, such as regulations on tailpipe emissions, have been immensely successful in improving air quality, providing both health and economic benefits. Modern cars are now considered 99 percent less polluting in comparison to cars on the road in the 1970s. We have the technology to make better, cleaner, more efficient cars. Why aren’t we?
Some might claim that stagnating progress toward cleaner cars and cleaner air makes economic sense. However, they are wrong. The return on investment is clear. For every $1 spent on policies to reduce vehicle emissions, Americans gain $9 in health and environmental benefits. Fuel emission standards also stimulate development of creative new technologies that make cars more efficient, cleaner and reliable. This saves consumers money. Drivers in Missouri saved an estimated $690 million to date because of a strong fuel economy and reduced global warming emission standards.
Economic growth is not the only reason we need cleaner cars. In the short term, our air, particularly in our cities, is not safe. St. Louis earned a grade of “F” for ground-level ozone — smog — in the American Lung Association’s most recent State of the Air report. Ozone is an irritant and constricts breathing. For children with asthma and adults with lung disease, unsafe air only worsens their conditions.
As a nurse, I see patients, particularly children, elderly and pregnant women struggle with managing risks of heart problems and breathing trouble on poor air quality days. These patients know that urban ozone may trigger an asthma attack, land them in the emergency room and even result in an expensive, scary and needless hospitalization.
In the long term, diminishing clean air safeguards weakens efficiency standards and delays action on climate change. The transportation sector is now the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. By 2030, estimates indicate that diminishing transportation emissions will lower pollution by 8.7 million metric tons per year, which is equal to shutting down two coal-fired power plants. Strengthening our emissions standards is an investment in our health, our economy and in our future.
The EPA’s proposed rollback not only weakens lifesaving clean air protections, but it threatens the authority of states to develop our own stricter standards to protect our own citizens. If Missouri wants to hold the line on pollution, clean up our air and keep Missourians healthier, we should be able to do just that as the Clean Air Act stipulates. Missouri should not have to fight our own EPA to maintain our state’s rights to make our own decisions about our own air. Missouri knows what’s best for Missouri, not a bunch of out-of-touch politicians in Washington DC.
Ultimately, less efficient cars on the road mean dirtier cars producing dirtier air for our dirtier lungs. Numerous health organizations, such as the American Lung Association and the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, are calling on EPA and NHTSA to maintain the current standards to safeguard the health of Missourians and all Americans.
I and my fellow nurses are calling on you to tell EPA that in Missouri we support innovation, not stagnation. We believe in modernizing, not regressing to out-of-date technology and old-fashioned engineering. Missourians move forward, not backward. We want to protect our children, our families and our most vulnerable, not endanger them. Contact Congress and make your voices heard. Speak out at the EPA public hearings scheduled across the country at the end of this month. Contact the EPA by Oct. 23 directly and tell them that their backward policies are bad for Missouri. We nurses are counting on you.
Lynelle Phillips is a registered nurse and an assistant professor in Columbia, Mo. She is a member of the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments and board member of the Missouri Public Health Association.
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