NHTSA, EPA hearing on easing pollution limits

It’s a juxtaposition that NHTSA/EPA has picked Fresno, CA to have their first meeting on easing the pollution limits that were set in 2012. Instead of having it at the Capitol in Sacramento, CA, on California Air Resources Board (CARB) territory they have picked the dirtiest county in California, Fresno.

The first thought is that Fresno is Devin Nunes (R) District 22 country, that there is a friend of the administration in the district. Nunes is known for being a climate change denier. NHTSA/EPA are holding a twelve-hour public comment period to show support to the Trump Administration saying they should roll back the advances made in greenhouse gas emissions. The next two comment periods are in Dearborn, MI, and Pittsburgh, PA, decidedly blue cities.

Alternatively, if you are a real conspiracy theorist, you might wonder if the employees of NHTSA/EPA are laughing through the smog as they do what the Trump administration has told them to do. When you see a career official quietly go up to a person that spoke against NHTSA/EPA and thank them for speaking at the event, you have to wonder how much they believe in what they are doing.

For most people in California, it is about air quality to live and work. The last 87 days have been bad air quality days in the Valley, which means if you have asthma or COPD you should be wearing an N95 mask to exercise or work in the yard or just stay inside with the windows closed. Chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) Mary Nichols, said that even if there are stricter regulations on stationary plants such as oil refineries, California won’t decrease greenhouse gas emissions the way it will by restricting GHG from vehicles.

Irene Gutierrez, Staff Attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), noted that “Fresno is surrounded by freeways, and sits in the San Joaquin Valley, which has the worst air quality in the United States. The farmers and fields in this area will be affected by the changing climate. In just thirty years summer temperatures will rise by 5-6 degrees less rain will fall, wildfire risks will increase.” Fresno is listed in the top three of most polluted cities in California by the American Lung Association. There are days when I have driven through the valley, and the air was worse than the air quality in China.

The more significant comments came from the people that have lived and literally breathed the problem. A doctor of 35 years, born in Fresno and practicing internal vascular medicine in Fresno Don H. Gaede, M.D. spoke from the heart, “every day in my office, I see patients suffering from asthma, COPD, and heart disease.”

Gaede took EPA to task, citing it’s website, “that the core mission is to protect human health and the environment.” There was anger in his voice when he quoted a study from California State Fullerton that said that 1,300 residents of the Valley die each year prematurely due to air pollution. Probably, because it wasn’t a number for the good doctor, some of those people are his patients, his friends.

The California administration and CARB were there to state their case, and to threaten legal retribution. If cooler heads, and engineers not lawyers, don’t prevail the United States will waste a great deal of money fighting a civil war over air quality in the courts.

About the Author:

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year (NACTOY), Women's World Car of the Year (WWCOTY), and the Concept Car of the Year.

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