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An electric car recharging. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

There is an important public health proposal in Nevada that you may not have heard about, but is bringing me a lot of hope.

As a respiratory therapist, I see how patients suffer when air pollution worsens. I watch young children with asthma begin to cough and wheeze on hazy, hot days. I see outdoor workers who must breathe smoke from wildfires, and seniors with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who cannot take their daily walks because of poor air quality.

Sadly, for some patients such conditions require a visit to the clinic or emergency departments for a breathing treatment. And all of us are forced to limit our usual outdoor activities because of air pollution. But, we have an opportunity to make things better.

With a strong push from Gov. Sisolak’s executive order on climate change, the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection is working to adopt public health-protective standards to clean our air. The Clean Cars Nevada Initiative could be a game-changer in the decades-long struggle for healthy air.

The burning of gasoline from the transportation sector is a leading source of harmful air and climate pollution within the state. Vehicle tailpipe pollution coupled with extreme heat from the Nevada desert leads to the formation of ozone which threatens lung health, especially for individuals living with lung disease or with higher exposure to emission sources. 

Breathing ozone, commonly known as smog, burns the lining of your lungs and airways, making it difficult to breathe. The American Lung Association 2020 Road to Clean Air Report highlights that pollution from tailpipes poses a significant public health threat including increased risk to asthma attacks, lung cancer, cardiovascular and developmental harm, and, in extreme cases, premature death.

These risks and exposures are not shared equally, in fact communities of color are 1.5 times more likely to live in a county with unhealthy air quality according to the American Lung Association 2020 State of the Air Report. In Nevada, 2.8 million residents live with poor air quality, posing a great risk to the 48,000 children and 185,000 adults with asthma. Pollution sources are often located in disadvantaged communities, increasing residents’ exposure to harmful pollutants like ozone. Historically, Black and Brown communities often have underlying health conditions, in addition, populations from lower socioeconomic backgrounds lack access to care; these factors contribute to the health disparities caused from air pollution.

Health organizations, doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists like me have been voicing our support for this policy so that we have stronger protections against a harmful mix of tailpipe pollutants and also see zero emission car choices expand in Nevada.

Stronger Clean Car Standards will reduce air pollutants that contribute to our ozone and particle challenges, cut greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change health effects, and ensure Nevada benefits from the transition to zero emission technologies. 

Shifting to electric transportation can save Nevadans nearly $745 million in public health savings annually. The deployment of zero-emission technologies could save lives, prevent asthma attacks, and curb climate driven health impacts by strengthening emission standards to clean our air. We can maximize these health benefits by also joining the July 2020 Memorandum of Understanding which accelerates the expansion of zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses to “benefit disadvantaged communities that have been historically with higher levels of air pollution.”

We need to ensure that the transition to zero-emission technologies supports better health and access for all communities, and especially those most impacted by harmful pollution today. Climate change is a public health emergency. The Nevada Department of Environmental Protection will host a technical session on the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program on Tuesday, March 30 at 9:00am. This will be the second of four technical sessions within the Clean Cars Nevada Rulemaking process to evaluate adoption of Lower Emission Vehicle (LEV) and Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) standards.

I am hopeful to see the Clean Cars Nevada Initiative fully adopted to protect public health, address climate change impacts, and set us on track to meet our state climate goals.

Marla Pitts has been a respiratory therapist for 17 years. She has lived in the Las Vegas area since 2006.

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