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Let’s keep mileage goals and clean up our air

Let’s keep mileage goals and clean up our air

Opinion/Editorial:

Central Ohio got the worrisome news on Friday that air quality here is subpar. That came just two days after the new head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defended a White House proposal to significantly relax fuel-economy standards for new cars.

The irony is obvious, but not surprising; it falls right in line with President Donald Trump’s enthusiasm for backward movement on all fronts.

Halting forward progress on cleaner air fits in perfectly with other signature Trump administration policies: backing out of the global effort to combat climate change, junking decades of progress toward free and fair trade in favor of destructive protectionism and disparaging international cooperation, favoring 20th-century nationalism instead.

On all of these fronts, the problem isn’t just philosophical disagreement. Backward-looking policies have the potential to do real harm to real people.

Tariffs likely will cost more jobs than they save, and inward-looking nationalism is a long-term threat to peace. Rarely, though, is the damage to people as direct as with backpedaling on fuel-economy standards.

High levels of ozone pollution irritate the airways and make it harder to breathe. They can make even healthy people more likely to get lung infections, but for those who have asthma, emphysema or other respiratory diseases, it can be life-threatening.

Auto emissions also are a prime contributor not only to ozone pollution but to climate change; the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that cars and trucks account for nearly 20 percent of U.S. global-warming emissions.

Meanwhile, emissions in central Ohio, combined with record hot weather, are making the air worse. Franklin County has violated air-quality standards three times this year, after doing so only twice in all of 2017.

Friday’s U.S. EPA declaration that the Columbus metropolitan area is in “marginal nonattainment” of air-quality standards means that, if ozone levels aren’t brought within standards in three years, the area could be subject to stricter pollution-control measures.

How much more sensible it would be to stick with the ambitious fuel-economy goals set in 2015 — the ones Trump’s EPA proposes to dramatically scale back. Automakers are making progress toward meeting the goal of a 54.5 mpg fleetwide average by 2026, and the drive to do so is spurring research and innovation, which supports jobs throughout the transportation industry, not just at auto manufacturers.

Supporters of the president’s retrograde proposal contend that increasing fuel efficiency raises the price of new cars and that American consumers prefer more powerful, lower mileage cars, so why not let the market set fuel-efficiency standards? “We think that’s between automakers and consumers,” acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told Dispatch Reporter Jessica Wehrman.

But for all the ways in which it can drive efficiency, the free market is notoriously poor at long-term protection of the environment and health.

Freezing fuel-economy standards at the current goal for 2020 would derail all the progress made toward more-efficient cars. And that, in turn, would make it that much harder for central Ohio to clean up its air.

We hope the Trump administration’s answer to this won’t be to simply lower air-quality standards so that communities can meet them without more-efficient cars — without really cleaning up the air.

That would be one more backward step — one posing a clear threat to Americans’ health and well-being.

Source: Columbus Dispatch 

8/9/2018

 

 

LINK:  http://www.dispatch.com/opinion/20180808/editorial-lets-keep-mileage-goals-and-clean-up-our-air

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