Transportation fuels take a double toll: at the pump and with our lives

MCT illustration

Don’t hold your breath, this is a statement about climate change.

Some of the impacts attributed to climate disruption are highly visible and increasingly in the news but not necessarily in our daily lives. Think increased coastal erosion and more severe storms.

But what about the air we breathe? Outdoor air pollution isn’t always as visible but it’s a leading cause of death worldwide. Except sometimes it is visible – remember the smoke last summer?

That wildfire smoke was a visible layer on top of less visible air pollution that is ever-present from the burning of fossil fuels. Imagine if every day we saw that pollution like we did the smoke. It might propel us to action faster.

So why not do something now?

The health effects of air pollution are equally extreme to those weather events we can more quickly see and feel; one third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease are due to air pollution.

And these impacts are particularly felt by the most vulnerable populations – infants, children, the elderly, low-income and communities of color who have already been exposed to increased amounts of toxins and pollutants. (Remember the former Ruston Asarco plant?)

So, what’s the true cost of our use of carbon-intensive fossil fuels? It’s seen far beyond the pump – in increased health insurance premiums, hospital bills and premature deaths.

Our Legislature is currently considering a number of policies to address the impacts of climate change and to increase public health. A clean-fuel standard, House Bill 1110 (which recently cleared the House), is a policy that can do both - and is the single best climate pollution reduction policy action the Legislature can take at this time.

Transportation fuels like gasoline and diesel are the biggest source of emissions in Washington, responsible for nearly half of our climate and air pollution. HB 1110 requires a 20-percent reduction in the carbon intensity of fuels by 2035, which would grow the market for cleaner-burning, low-carbon fuels and pave the way for emission-free electric vehicles.

More and more estimates for the health costs of air pollution total in excess of $300 billion annually. Our neighbors up and down the West Coast – in Oregon, British Columbia and California – are already benefiting from decreased emissions and cost savings in public health budgets.

So why not Washington? In fact, we’re the lone state in the region without a clean fuel standard policy.

Just last year, the American Lung Association ranked the Seattle-Tacoma area as the 15th most-polluted area for short-term particle pollution - caused by our cars and trucks - worsening its ranking from No. 17 in 2017.

Dependence on a global fuel market is already costing Washington residents in the form of volatile fuel prices and rising health care costs. We’re paying double for our transportation fuels – at the pump and with our lives.

A clean fuel standard is more than just about climate change; it’s about cleaner air, encouraging business and economic development with home-grown bio-fuels from local agricultural products, and reducing the costs and impacts to public health.

The air we breathe is inescapable and we don’t always get to choose what goes into it. But we can make a choice by passing HB 1110, reducing transportation emissions and breathing easy into the future.

Ryan Mello is a member of the Tacoma City Council and board member of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. Carrie Nyssen is senior director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Washington.