This op-ed originally ran in the Fresno Bee.
Cities in the San Joaquin Valley continue to land among the American Lung Association's top 10 most polluted communities in the country. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the comment period closed on the Trump administration's plans to ratchet back federal emissions standards and eliminate California's authority to run its crucial car emissions programs. Although the administration has its eyes on greenhouse gas controls, what's at stake is California's ability to transition to low- and zero-emission vehicles, a transition essential to reducing the pollutants that threaten public health in California and elsewhere in the nation.
The federal government has the primary authority to set automobile pollution standards under the Clean Air Act. But Congress — recognizing California's serious air pollution challenges — stipulated that California is entitled to a "waiver" that lets the state set stricter standards, and which gives other states the option to follow California's standards. The Trump administration's proposal threatens to withdraw the 2013 waiver that authorized the current Clean Cars program.
The Clean Cars program is critical to addressing ozone levels — or smog as it is more commonly labeled. Ozone is a significant public health hazard, contributing to asthma, cardiovascular problems, and premature death. Although California's air quality has improved since the Clean Air Act was enacted, air quality in many parts of the state remains poor. According to the American Lung Association's State of the Air 2018 report, the 14 cities with the highest ozone levels in the country are in California. Millions are impacted, including the 10 million in the Los Angeles region, which tops the ALA's smoggiest cities list, as well as those living in the San Joaquin Valley, Sacramento and San Diego.
Developing clean cars is essential to addressing this pollution. According to the ALA, in California, 84 percent of the nitrogen oxide emissions that contribute to ozone come from transportation.