Facing Deadly Levels Of Pollution, Will California Finally Step Up?
Above photo: From Union of Concerned Scientists.
Humans do not exist in a vacuum. We are very much a part of the world, a part of our Mother Earth. And when Mother Earth is ailing, we fall sick as well. Indeed, multiple studies done by the California Air Resources Board have found a correlation between air pollution and respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease and lowered immune responses.
California has a vibrant, growing economy. This abundance has led to increasing population growth. With that increasing population comes further damage to the environment as each new individual adds to the overall carbon footprint of the state. Despite already having some of the highest emission standards and environmental protections in the nation, citizens of some of California’s largest cities such as Sacramento spent over a month breathing dangerously unhealthy air in 2017.
And it appears that California has found in the Trump Administration another adversary to its quest for clean air and good health for its citizens.
The State of California v. Trump
In 2017 alone, the State of California has initiated 17 lawsuits against the Trump administration. In the latest case, California joins with 17 other states in suing the Environmental Protection Agency over their announcement to roll back Obama-era emissions standards. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argue that the administration’s move to roll back the rule stating that automakers must help reduce greenhouse gasses by manufacturing a vehicle fleet that gets 54.5 miles to the gallon by the year 2024 was randomly and capriciously done despite evidence the standards were working.
Ironically enough, automakers were compliant with the new law, and had not rallied to say the Obama-era standards were too stringent. Indeed, many automakers such as Ford saw opportunity in the standards and had already designed several newer fuel-efficient vehicles with more on the horizon. The basis of the plaintiff’s case is that the move to roll back the standards was arbitrary in nature. Despite evidence that automakers were complying and that the new standards were effective, the EPA acted recklessly.
This rollback of effective, previously uncontested emissions standards has serious consequences, particularly for states such as California with a high population that continues to grow. Many cities such as Sacramento are in valleys, meaning that when emissions build up, there is nowhere for them to go to escape. The result is an unhealthy number of particulates being loosed into the atmosphere. These particulates cause several serious health problems at a time in US history when many people simply can’t afford to get sick.
The Effect of Particulate Pollution and Health
The move by the EPA to reduce emissions standards under the Trump administration could not come at a worse time for many states such as California. Indeed, California boasts eight of the ten most polluted cities in the United States. Southern California notably has the worst air pollution of any other area in the US. When one sits overlooking LA from afar, the signature halo of pollution creates a rosy, if deadly, glow to the sunset in the west. And at a time when people continue to flock to California in droves, the new standards create a serious public health risk.
The links between high pollution levels and public health is clear. In areas where pollution is high, children evidence higher risks of asthma, and children and adults alike suffer far greater incidences of respiratory and cardiovascular disease. Studies have shown an affirmative link between air pollution and several forms of cancer including lung cancer.
The lowered standard means Californians, among others, could well become even sicker than they already are. And this could not come at a worse time. With the repeal of the Individual Mandate, experts predict that millions more will find themselves uninsured, often those with pre-existing conditions who will find themselves priced out of coverage now that there is no penalty for failing to obtain coverage. Covered California has reassured consumers that those who buy insurance through the state exchange will not be impacted, but the true effects of the individual mandate repeal may not be seen for years.
If this problem expands to other states, citizens in those states may also be affected by increased pollution married to increased insurance prices. And with 45,000 citizens already dying annually due to lack of access to health insurance and healthcare, any increase will only compound what is already a national tragedy.
Decisions do not happen in a vacuum, and decisions made by the highest level of government affect millions of Americans. With so much at stake, it’s nice to see California addressing the real issues affecting not only those in their state, but across America. Moving forward, it will be crucial that California garners support, and that citizens in other states with similar problems are willing to take a stand as well. Now is the time for better health, so now is the time for stricter emissions standards. We can’t afford to go backwards with so much at stake.