Vote Earth

Ten by Earth Day 2021: Ensuring clean air for marginalized communities through zero-emission vehicles

The‌ ‌legacy‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌first‌ ‌Earth‌ ‌Day‌ ‌in‌ ‌1970‌ ‌is‌ ‌rooted‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌sweeping‌ ‌environmen‌tal laws and regulations that resulted, many of which are under threat today. In honor of the 50th anniversary, and now with less than 70 days until the November elections, EARTHDAY.ORG is rolling out the policy initiatives we want to see within the first 100 days of the next Administration, by Earth Day 2021.

This blog is the sixth in our series and focuses on the Zero-Emission Vehicles Act, which would make large strides toward addressing the inequitable impacts of air pollution from vehicles.

The transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the US, accounting for 28.2% of 2018 emissions. More than 90% of the fuel used by cars, trucks, trains and planes is made from petroleum, which includes gasoline and diesel.

Vehicle emissions are often one of the most visible sources of pollution. If you live in or near an urban area, you’re most likely not a stranger to smog. However, the effects of vehicle emissions go much deeper than stuffy air and hazy skies. 

Exhaust gas contains a slew of toxic compounds, including carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM). When inhaled by humans, these pollutants can increase the risk of a number of forms of cancer and lead to a host of respiratory, cardiac, reproductive and immune damage. 

Marginalized communities in the United States are more likely to be in areas of high vehicle traffic due to racist policies and practices such as redlining and the intentional placement of highways in communities of color. As a result, they suffer these health consequences at higher rates than the general population.

In order to build a just future — one in which vulnerable communities have the right to clean, healthy and safe air — it is necessary to strive for the vehicles on our roads to be emissions free and prioritize solutions in the communities most burdened by vehicle emissions.

EARTHDAY.ORG supports the passage of the Zero-Emission Vehicles Act, a bill that would require the Environmental Protection Agency to establish a zero-emission passenger vehicle standard.

Introduced by Rep. Mike Levin (D-CA) in 2019, this bill sets a goal for 100% of all new passenger vehicles to be zero-emissions vehicles by 2040. To achieve this within this time frame, auto manufacturers would be required to increase zero-emissions vehicles to 50% of new passenger vehicle sales by 2030 and continue to increase these sales by 5% a year. 

This act would be enacted as an amendment to the Clean Air Act, which establishes guidelines for vehicle emissions. Like many other environmental policies under the current administration, the Clean Air Act has recently been rewritten to allow the EPA to view pollution largely through an economic lens, without considering other factors, like public health.

The Zero-Emission Vehicles Act would mostly apply to passenger sedans, while trucks and SUVs would be exempt. Considering that SUVs were sold twice the amount as sedans in 2019, this limitation may hurt the bill’s intended impact. 

Therefore, the Zero-Emission Vehicles Act is just one, albeit necessary, step to curtailing air pollution and transitioning to zero-emissions transportation. In addition to the bill, comprehensive changes must also address the equity and sustainability of the transportation system as a whole and city planning.

This November, Vote Earth to say that a just, zero-emissions reality cannot wait.