Using Faux Scandals to Delay Progress

The role of science in curbing harmful pollution has received significant play recently. A series of stolen emails has been the subject of climate change debates just as the international community is gearing up for negotiations in Copenhagen despite the vast majority of international governments agreeing that action must be taken to reduce lethal climate change pollution. Despite the attention the science behind climate change has received recently, the global community is in agreement that our climate is changing and that it is human caused.

A similar thinly veiled attempt to derail the most significant public health regulation to come through California in decades is also brewing at California’s Air Resources Board (CARB). Chaired by Mary Nichols, CARB has been a leader in battling harmful air pollution for decades.  This agency is also charged with implementing California’s landmark climate change legislation, AB 32.  Fearful of the progress in cleaning up some of dirtiest air in the nation in the San Joaquin Valley and Los Angeles region, trucking lobbyists have started to complain about a recently passed and long overdue regulation aimed at modernizing our decrepit fleet of large trucks traveling throughout the state.   

CARB is holding a hearing in Sacramento tomorrow to provide updates on several issues, including the economic implications of diesel regulations planned to take effect over the upcoming years. The CARB regulations will require roughly one million existing diesel vehicles to be upgraded with exhaust retrofits or cleaner engines beginning in 2010 and phasing in through 2022 to reduce diesel soot and smog-forming gases. Most long distance trucks and trailers will also have to use EPA-approved efficient tires and aerodynamic fittings, both of which are expected to save billions of gallons of fuel. School buses are included in these regulations, but would generally be required only to add exhaust retrofits, for which there is ample public funding available.  To be honest, this is an expensive rule, but the trucking industry has benefited for decades by not having programs in place to clean up its aging fleet of trucks.  Thousands of respiratory illnesses and premature deaths were caused by this lack of progress.

The link between diesel pollution and an array of potentially lethal respiratory diseases is founded in a plethora of independent and peer-reviewed findings. However, opponents of clean air programs are spinning tales of corruption that are simply unfounded.   Lacking real grounds to oppose this regulation, which is slated to save thousands of lives each year from premature death due to air pollution, the opponents of clean air progress have latched onto an episode where a person that worked for CARB lied about their credentials.  Conveniently, these opponents of clean air have left out critical facts like the fact that the report on the impacts of the diesel pollution was peer reviewed and the science behind the impacts of diesel is long-standing and exceptionally compelling.  Obviously, these clean air opponents prefer ignoring science.     

Heavy-duty trucks in California are the largest single source of diesel pollution, leading to thousands of illnesses and deaths each year. Pollution from diesel trucks in California is responsible for roughly 4,500 premature deaths each year, which is more than the number of deaths from auto accidents. The cost of this loss of life in addition to disease, lost work days, and school absences adds up to $40 billion per year. However, diesel pollution could easily be prevented through upgrades to the existing truck fleet. While truck owners may be wary of the added costs of upgrades that will be required, $1 billion funding has been made available by the state to offset those costs.

Individuals calling for a suspension of the diesel rule until a reexamination of the science behind diesel and adverse public health problems are simply deluding themselves.   They need to wake up to the reality that we need to clean up the decrepit trucks to clean California’s air, reduce global warming pollution, and protect the health of millions of California’s residents.