EPA: Sign the Paperwork That Will Save Nearly 9,000 Lives

With the Stroke of a Pen, EPA Can Grant the Waivers for Critical California Regulations Shifting Us to Zero Emissions Everything

Today, a broad coalition of community, health, environmental, and environmental justice groups sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asking for quick action to issue waivers for several California rules that clean up equipment ranging from tugboats to trucks to locomotives. A coalition of close to 25 health organizations, including the American Lung Association, filed a similar letter asking for prompt action by EPA.

Why the flurry of letters? It turns out EPA Administrator has some critical paperwork to sign for California’s latest life-saving regulations under the Clean Air Act. But it’s not just California voices weighing in — because California has the sole authority to establish more protective air quality regulations than the federal government, other states that want to protect their residents’ lungs often opt into the Golden State’s standards too. Roughly a third of Americans already breathe cleaner air under California’s rules.

The health benefits of these rules before EPA are staggering. In California alone, for example, it’s  estimated that the Advanced Clean Fleet’s Regulation to electrify trucks will save more than 2,500 lives over the life of the regulation and provide more than $26 billion in health benefits to Californians (those numbers are a testament to just how deadly diesel truck pollution is).

Trucks haul shipping containers at the Port of Los Angeles, the nation's busiest port. Their emissions create diesel death zones along freight lines and freeways throughout the state. Trucks produce the pollution for 40% of California’s unhealthy smog problem.

Trucks haul shipping containers at the Port of Los Angeles, the nation’s busiest port. Their emissions create diesel death zones along freight lines and freeways throughout the state. Trucks produce the pollution for 40% of California’s unhealthy smog problem. (Getty Images)

California estimates its regulation covering commercial harbor craft (think tugboats and barges) will save 530 lives and save Californians an estimated $5.25 billion dollars. California estimates its locomotive rule will result in 3,200 avoided deaths and more than $32 billion in health benefits to Californians. The Advanced Clean Cars regulation will save 1,300 lives and result in close to $13 billion in avoided health costs to Californians. And the list goes on.

Amongst all the regulations where EPA needs to take action, nearly 9,000 lives could be saved and more than a $75 billion dollar boost could be delivered to California’s economy through health savings. These may just be numbers, but they’ll translate to our daily lives. The real benefit is the days a child does not need to miss school due to an asthma attack. Or, the added years a child will have celebrating holidays with a grandparent.

The stakes could not be higher for the state battling the toughest air pollution woes in the country. And, we recognize that large and powerful interests that have a vested stake in keeping California’s skies filthy will fight EPA every step of the way. The freight industry will use the courts to try to stop EPA. But to date, these entities have been unsuccessful. And, their resistance to saving lives and cleaning our skies should just bolster the resolve of EPA. They’re fighting because the regulations work.

Wide shot of the downtown Los Angeles skyline bathed in smog. View from Griffith Park.

The downtown Los Angeles skyline bathed in smog. (Daniel Stein / Getty Images)

The benefits of swift EPA action will not just remain in California. Under our Clean Air Act, once EPA issues its waiver or authorization, other states can opt into California’s standards. Tens of millions of Americans outside of California will also benefit from these regulations because their state decides its important to protect communities from deadly truck pollution, or to bring its cars into the 21st century and go electric.

Recently, my colleague Regina Hsu wrote about how EPA could listen to community and environmental justice leaders calling on EPA authorizing a regulation to clean up deadly ship pollution when docked in California Ports. EPA listened and moved swiftly to issue the authorization, and communities living in the shadows of ports celebrated the relief coming their way.

The Biden-Harris administration has made many proclamations on the importance of addressing environmental injustice. Doing the work to process Californian’s requests to clean up trucks, trains, cars, and other equipment is the next logical step for clean skies and healthy lungs for overburdened communities. We won’t succeed in eliminating the blanket of smog that envelops our skies in the summer months without these protections. After all, they’re the cornerstone of California’s blueprint to tackle deadly air pollution.

Based in Los Angeles, Adrian works on clean air, clean energy, and healthy communities issues as a deputy managing attorney for Earthjustice's Right to Zero campaign. Follow him on Twitter @LASmogGuy.

The California Regional Office fights for the rights of all to a healthy environment regardless of where in the state they live; we fight to protect the magnificent natural spaces and wildlife found in California; and we fight to transition California to a zero-emissions future where cars, trucks, buildings, and power plants run on clean energy, not fossil fuels.

Michael S. Regan
EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. (NC DEQ)