Trump’s auto rollback is an attack on public health

Trump’s auto rollback is an attack on public health
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpChasten Buttigieg: 'I've been dealing with the likes of Rush Limbaugh my entire life' Lawmakers paint different pictures of Trump's 'opportunity zone' program We must not turn our heads from the effects of traumatic brain injuries MORE is threatening to hit the brakes on landmark protections for all Americans who live in communities with unhealthy air. By rolling back car pollution standards, he will dismantle safeguards to protect the air we breathe, worsening quality of life and increasing rates of premature death. 

Cars emit toxic air pollution that has made the air unhealthy to breathe for millions of Americans. In fact, nearly 40 percent of Americans live in areas with unhealthy levels of smog pollution and a new study from the American Lung Association finds that smog is increasing in the U.S.


Smog, fueled by exhaust from cars, can hurt people’s eyes and burn their throat. Even worse, it can exacerbate cardiorespiratory ailments and raise the mortality risk for Americans with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Evidence shows that short- and long-term exposure to vehicle pollutants and other particulate matter decreases life expectancy by months or years. Our most vulnerable Americans, including seniors, children and those living in low-income communities and in close proximity to roadways, are at greatest risk.


It is no surprise, then, that the American Lung Association also found seven in 10 voters support the existing auto standards, showing just how unpopular Trump’s proposed move is with the American people.

There federal vehicle fuel economy standards in place help to address America's smog problem, which in turn improves health, the environment, and the economy. The standards call on auto companies to design more fuel efficient cars so that Americans can drive farther with less fuel. Specifically, the standards are designed to reduce carbon emissions from new passenger cars by 50 percent and double fuel economy by 2025. President Trump is proposing to freeze fuel economy standards at 2020 levels, which risks locking in a future of dirty cars and harmful smog.

Americans and a growing chorus of leaders are speaking out and working to drive toward a safer future. A petition with more than a quarter-million signatures was delivered to Ford Headquarters earlier this month in support of the existing standards.

This strong support is no surprise: fuel efficiency is a win-win for consumers to spend less at the pump, breathe healthier air, and live in a more climate-safe planet. States are also working to protect Americans’ right to clean air: 17 states and Washington, D.C. — a swath of America representing 40 percent of the U.S. auto market — are suing the federal government in an effort to keep America moving toward greater fuel efficiency.

The existing standards not only help to improve America's health in the near-term, they also help protect public health for decades to come by lessening the impacts of climate change. Transportation is the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country and the standards are projected to reduce U.S. fuel consumption by 12 billion barrels of oil. Burning this oil would lead to an increase of greenhouse gas emissions, causing changes in temperature that trigger a range of health risks. From an increase in vector-borne diseases to extreme weather events, working to stabilize the world’s temperature is critical for public health.

With many public health policies, there is often a tension between what industry wants and the protections the public needs. In this case, however, the standards ultimately had the support of both auto manufacturers and public health advocates. There is no good reason to roll back these important public health protections. 

Georges C. Benjamin, MD, is executive director of the American Public Health Association.