It's a little hard to remember while we are currently in the late stages of a tough winter, but the smog season will soon be here. The air quality index will displace the wind chill index - and in many areas, people will be urged to stay indoors to flee the dirty air.
Air pollution remains a widespread problem: According to the U. S. EPA, nearly 150 million people - nearly one in two -- live in areas where the air is too dangerous to breathe. Children, older adults, those with chronic lung disease and heart disease or diabetes, and people with low incomes are most at risk.
And it's a real in-your-face problem for those living near highways or other heavily used roads. The nonprofit Health Effects Institute notes that a third or more people live within 300-500 meters of a major roadway and the dirty, deadly fumes. Polluted air means more breathing problems, aggravated asthma, fear-filled trips to the emergency room, and even admissions to the hospital and sometimes to the intensive care unit. Traffic exhaust can also cause the most egregious harm - premature death.
Fortunately, something can be done to improve the situation. The White House is in the final stages of reviewing a plan by the EPA to require cleaner gasoline and lower-polluting new cars and SUVs. Known in the jargon of government as the "Tier 3" plan, this initiative would significantly reduce pollution from coast to coast: according to the National Association of Clean Air Agencies , it would be like taking 33 million cars off the road!
Cleaner, lower-sulfur gasoline would immediately make every car on the road run cleaner. That's because sulfur is a contaminant that impedes the performance of catalytic converters. Reduce the sulfur in gas, and your car will pollute less. Cleaner gasoline will prevent up to 15,000 asthma attacks, 3.1 million missed school and work days, and 2,500 premature deaths each year by 2030, as noted in the 2013 American Lung Association report.
The cost would be negligible. The EPA notes that cleaner gasoline would cost a mere penny a gallon or less. A penny is a pittance to pay for cleaner air.
No wonder this plan is supported by such a broad and diverse coalition: public health groups, environmental, consumer and science groups, state and local environmental officials, the auto industry, both domestic and foreign, the makers of pollution control equipment and auto workers.
But we cannot afford a delay. If the standards are not adopted by the end of this month, we will lose a full year of air quality benefits and put in danger the lives of 2,500 people. Join me in urging President Obama to direct EPA to finalize cleaner gasoline and vehicle standards by the end of this month so that we have less tailpipe pollution and cleaner air to breathe.