Cleaning our air through a vehicle repair and replace program
As leaders of public health organizations, we see Nevadans struggling with asthma and allergies nearly every day. These very common illnesses affect thousands of Nevada’s children—filling up emergency rooms and clinics, keeping kids from school, and forcing parents to miss work. Not all our kids face the same levels of risk, though. Children who live near busy roadways and highways are much more likely to cough, wheeze, and sneeze. Exposure to air pollution from traffic increases their odds of asthma and allergies and can make their symptoms significantly worse. We could help these children with a reasonable solution: getting the dirtiest vehicles repaired or off our roads.
That idea is now being considered thanks to AB 349, a bill that closed the “classic car loophole” that allowed tens of thousands of older, more polluting cars to avoid regular smog checks. Clark and Washoe counties are now considering programs that would give vehicle owners vouchers to either repair cars that fail their smog checks, or help them purchase a newer, more efficient vehicle. In the next decade, as Nevada’s Clean Car initiative takes effect, these new vehicles will include many more affordable electric models.
These combined efforts could yield significant health and economic benefits for the state. Similar programs in neighboring states assist tens of thousands of families by providing repair vouchers up to $850 or down payment vouchers up to $9,500 towards the purchase of a new vehicle. These efforts have proven to be highly effective, with approximately 80 percent of vouchers redeemed and 98 percent of unregistered vehicles completing necessary repairs and DMV registration after years of falling under the radar.
A program like this could bring significant air quality benefits to all Nevada residents. Both Las Vegas and Reno are among the country’s top 25 most ozone-polluted cities, mostly because of vehicle exhaust. Cars, buses, and trucks continue to spew a thick blanket of smog over the Vegas and Washoe valleys, especially on hot days or during temperature inversions. According to the American Lung Association, more than 40 percent of Americans live in communities with poor air quality, but for Nevadans the percentage is a shocking 94 percent—more than 2.8 million people.
Our most vulnerable pay the heaviest toll. Children’s developing lungs may be permanently stunted by air pollution, with lifelong health consequences. Seniors who breathe polluted air are more likely to experience heart attacks, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and premature death. People with chronic illnesses tend to get sicker in bad air; people with diabetes, for example, can have more trouble managing their blood sugar on high-pollution days.
Emissions from power plants, factories, and highways also contribute to health disparities, with low-income neighborhoods and communities of color experiencing the greatest exposure to pollutants. Providing rebates and incentives to families so they can repair or replace high polluting vehicles ensures an equitable solution to the health harms of transportation emissions, putting financial and air quality benefits where they are most needed.
Getting these polluting cars off our roads would benefit everyone else, too. The American Lung Association estimates that a transition to electric vehicles in Nevada — powered by zero emission electricity such as solar and wind — would prevent up to 14,800 asthma attacks and save $7.5 billion in state public health costs between now and 2050. It would also reduce Nevada’s biggest source of climate-harming greenhouse gasses.
For all these reasons, the Nevada chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Lung Association support the creation of a repair/replace voucher program. We look forward to our local air agencies piloting the program and urge Clark and Washoe County Commissions to secure longer-term funding to get polluting cars off our roads. Because helping drivers switch to cleaner cars is an urgent next step in creating a sustainable and healthy future for all of us.
Debra Hendrickson, MD, FAAP, is a climate advocate with the American Academy of Pediatrics, Nevada chapter. Melissa Ramos, MPA, is a manager with the Clean Air Advocacy group at the American Lung Association.