Although the transportation sector has now surpassed the energy sector as the major source of greenhouse gases in the United States, the Trump administration has suspended a federal safeguard intended to curb a major source of climate-changing emissions, the pollution from cars and trucks on national highways, putting Americans’ health at risk.
Clean Air Carolina, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, filed suit along with Natural Resources Defense Council and U.S. Public Interest Research Group against the Federal Highway Administration on July 31st for unlawful suspension of a final greenhouse gas (GHG) regulation that would require states to measure and set reduction targets for GHGs emitted by on-road vehicles on the national highway system (the GHG measure). The suspension was done without notice or opportunity for public comment.
The regulation was designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions –including carbon pollution – from major highway transportation sources. That could, in turn, help slow climate change—already evident in rising seas, stronger storms, and poorer air quality—and reduce ground-level ozone and other harmful pollutants that worsen respiratory illnesses such as asthma.
Effects in North Carolina
North Carolina has over 15,000 miles of interstate highways, with I-95 and I-77 running north to south and I-40/85 running east to west. The communities along these interstates would benefit from knowing how much air pollution is being generated by vehicles on those roads. Towns and cities would be more able to craft pollution-reduction solutions to combat climate change if they were collecting emissions data. The standard could drive communities to provide smarter, cleaner transportation options, including public transportation, carpooling, vanpooling, and safer streets for walking and biking.
In the Southeast, groups like Clean Air Carolina have long battled poor air quality and soaring greenhouse gas emissions. The GHG measure was meant to usher in smarter 21st century transportation options for our communities. It will help put us on the right road to protect our children, and all future generations, from dangerous climate change and unhealthy air.
Americans are disproportionately impacted by the health effects of air pollution and climate change. Children whose lungs are still forming and older adults, whose lung capacity has diminished over the years are most vulnerable as well as the millions of Americans with respiratory diseases. We must also consider minority and low-income communities which suffer disproportionately from the impacts of highway air pollution because of the location of where they live.
Protecting Public Health
Coincidentally, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health recently released a study which estimates that future climate change, if left unaddressed, is expected to cause roughly 60,000 deaths globally in the year 2030 and 260,000 deaths in 2100 due to climate change’s effect on global air pollution. Hotter temperatures speed up the chemical reactions that create air pollutants such as ozone and fine particulate matter, which impact public health.
Key priorities for Clean Air Carolina’s Medical Advocates for Healthy Air program include publicizing the health impacts of air pollution and climate change and advocating for policy changes to reduce those impacts. We will continue to be vigilant in our efforts to defend and promote regulations designed to protect Americans’ health from harmful air pollution.