As a healthcare professional, living and working in Minneapolis, I regularly see the impacts of tailpipe pollution on patients. It has long been known that transportation pollution and poor air quality are associated with an increased risk of a wide range of negative health outcomes – including asthma, cardiovascular disease and even childhood leukemia. We even know now that exposure to smog brings an increased risk of poor health outcomes from COVID-19.
Sadly, and similarly to the COVID-19 pandemic, these impacts disproportionately impact lower-income communities and communities of color, which are more likely to be located near busy highways and other high-traffic corridors, such as ports and international bridges. We know that life expectancy is more impacted by the zip code of a child than by their genetic code, and that climate change is exacerbating these health inequities.
This issue hits close to home. I grew up with a younger sister with asthma. Hot days were particularly hard for her, and I have many memories of her up with a nebulizer when she couldn’t breathe. She was also limited in sports and physical activity and often wheezing when we were outside playing during ragweed season.
According to the 2021 State of the Air Report authored by the American Lung Association in a comparison of metropolitan areas across the country, Hennepin County was among the cleanest counties for short-term particle and ozone air pollution. It is my aim to keep it this way and continue to protect the health of the most populous county in Minnesota.
Fortunately, we know how to improve air quality in the most vulnerable communities and combat the climate crisis that is amplifying all of these challenges. Tailpipe pollution is the biggest problem, and we can reduce the harmful pollutants that are coming out of tailpipes now, and work to get rid of tailpipes altogether by putting the nation’s automotive fleets on a clear pathway to 100% zero emission electric vehicles.
This is why the Biden administration and the EPA must work urgently to develop the next round of long-term clean car standards to ensure that nothing but pollution-free light duty cars and trucks are being sold by 2035. The EPA deserves our gratitude for their swift work in undoing the damage done by the previous administration, which had rolled back clean car standards and allowed more polluting vehicles on the roads. But now their attention must turn towards this critical next round of standards, or we’ll risk losing precious time to clean up the transportation sector as a whole.
The strongest possible clean car standards aren’t only a good thing for my sister with asthma or my patients in our communities, but they are also good for our economy. The transition to cleaner, zero-emission vehicles will create good jobs in a growing industry and will also save drivers money in fuel costs every single day.
Here in Minnesota, we are lucky to have elected officials who listened to scientists and health experts, and in turn made our state the first in the Midwest to adopt a clean cars plan. While this will help ensure that an increasing number of electric cars and trucks are sold in the state every year, and will also cut carbon pollution, Minnesotans will still suffer from the cumulative impacts of all greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s transportation sector. If we hope to preserve our winters and stave off rising temperatures then we need to ensure that all cars sold nationally are emission free.
Bottom line; long term clean car standards will help our most vulnerable communities who are the most exposed to air pollution and the hardest hit by the impacts of climate change. Strong emissions standards are the best tool that our policymakers have for reducing dangerous and deadly air pollution, and for combatting the climate crisis.
As a nurse, I’m at the bedside, helping care for patients every day. But nurses cannot do it alone. Discharging patients into the very environments that compromise their health gets us nowhere. We need to stop people from ever becoming patients, and we can do that through strong clean car standards.
Jessica Fisher is a nurse with the University of Minnesota Physicians.