A new report from the American Lung Association outlines the enormous health benefits of a nationwide shift to electric vehicles and clean energy. Alas, the potential payoff hinges on the slim chance that lawmakers, automakers and utilities can seize the opportunity to save tens of thousands of lives.
This optimistic scenario would reduce pollution enough to prevent up to 89,300 premature deaths by 2050, according to the report. There would also be 2.2 million fewer asthma attacks over the same period. And since money talks, health benefits total $978 billion and 10.7 million fewer lost workdays over the next few decades.
These wonderful things will only happen if the United States sells only emissions-free passenger vehicles by 2035, even if some gas guzzlers stay on the road. (The average person keeps a car for about 14 years or 200,000 miles.) By that date, the country’s electricity will also have to come from clean renewable energy instead of fossil fuels. Unfortunately, that could be long, at least under current policies.
That could be a long time, at least under current policies
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed tough new standards for exhaust emissions in April. Once finalized, the rules could push automakers to achieve up to two-thirds of light-duty electric vehicle sales by 2032. The pace is expected to accelerate rapidly to reach 100% of electric vehicle sales a few years later.
Things get complicated when it comes to cleaning electrical networks. The Biden Administration said it wants to achieve 100% carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035. But it has also taken steps that would keep fossil fuel power plants online. The EPA’s long-awaited proposal to update pollution limits for power plants, for example, relies heavily on technologies that capture carbon dioxide from stack emissions. While this reduces the emissions that cause climate change, it doesn’t eliminate all the other nasty stuff that coal and gas-fired power plants pump out that can harm people’s health.
It doesn’t hurt to dream, though. And the American Lung Association remains hopeful that the United States will clean up in time, citing the EPA’s proposed rule on tailpipe emissions as an important first step. “This is an urgent health issue for millions of people in the United States,” said Harold Wimmer, president and CEO of the American Lung Association. Press release. “Fortunately, the goal of moving passenger vehicle sales to zero emissions, and the resulting health impacts, is within reach.”
Transportation is one of the biggest sources of air pollution in the United States, where 120 million people live in places with unhealthy air quality, according to the American Lung Association.