November 07, 2018 11:58 am News Staff – A proposed revision to federal vehicle emission standards may go by the acronym SAFE -- for Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient -- but it would be a dangerous and costly weakening of good regulation. That's the sharp message in a letter the AAFP sent to Andrew Wheeler, the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) acting administrator.
"Eroding current vehicle emissions, efficiency and technology standards adopted in 2012 will harm both the short- and long-term health of Americans," the AAFP warned in the Oct. 24 letter,(2 page PDF) which was signed by Board Chair Michael Munger, M.D., of Overland Park, Kan. "Decreasing air pollution is crucial to mitigate negative health effects and prevent death from poor ambient air quality."
It's been more than 40 years since American drivers first benefitted from federally mandated fuel-efficiency standards. In the mid-1970s, gas prices were going up, and the new regulations meant miles-per-gallon levels would, too. The push to double fuel efficiency was about money and oil, yes, but turning the 13.5-miles-per-gallon car into a relic was also an environmental win.
Since the most recent set of emissions standards began ramping up, U.S. drivers have saved an estimated $70 billion on gas, and emissions have been cut by 228 million metric tons.
The EPA's proposed rule -- titled "The Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles Rule for Model Years 2021-2026 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks," and published in the Sept. 26 Federal Register -- would freeze standards in 2021, halting the current rule's continued elevation of efficiency five years early. It also would revoke states' authority to set their own rules under the Clean Air Act.
The Academy's letter detailed numerous potential harms of the proposed change.
"Reducing the standards for vehicle emissions while repealing states' Clean Air Act authority will increase pollution and harm health," it said. "The AAFP urges the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to uphold the current emission, efficiency and technology standards and maintain state flexibility to implement standards through the Clean Air Act."
The letter went on: "Weaker standards allowing for less fuel-efficient vehicles will contribute to an increase in fossil fuel use. Burning fossil fuels is a direct cause of the increasing levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), which exacerbates climate change. Climate change is an urgent public health issue with unprecedented ramifications associated with mental health, vector-borne illness, healthy respiration, temperature-related death and illness, food safety and maldistribution, and water-related deaths and illnesses."
Fuel combustion from vehicles has already surpassed all other emission sources in America, accounting for 28.5 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, the AAFP reminded the EPA.
The negative health and environmental impacts of the proposed change are all but certain. By the EPA's and the U.S. Department of Transportation's own estimates, the proposed rule would increase automotive CO2 emissions by 713 million metric tons over the lifetime of 1979- to 2029-model year vehicles.
Because those emissions degrade air quality and directly worsen public health, the Academy called on the EPA to maintain the 2012 rule.
"As physicians, we treat patients who are impacted by poor air quality associated with excessive pollution," the letter said. "These health effects disproportionately harm marginalized populations, children and the elderly.
"The AAFP strongly urges the EPA and the NHTSA to uphold the current emission, efficiency and technology standards. Doing so will allow states to implement standards through the Clean Air Act that will keep Americans and others healthy for generations to come."
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