Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Get clean-car standards sooner, not later

As family nurse practitioners working in the Albuquerque area, we see the impacts of tailpipe pollution at the bedside. It has long been known that transportation pollution and poor air quality are associated with an increased risk of a wide range of negative health outcomes – including asthma, cardiovascular disease and even childhood leukemia. We also know now exposure to smog brings an increased risk of poor health outcomes from COVID-19.

Sadly, and similar to the COVID-19 pandemic, these impacts disproportionately affect lower-income communities and communities of color, which are more likely to be located near busy highways and other high-traffic corridors, such as ports and international bridges. We know life expectancy is impacted more by the zip code of a child than their genetic code, and climate change is exacerbating these health inequities.

Because of our unique weather and geography, which traps tailpipe pollution, residents in the Albuquerque metropolitan area are subject to some of the highest rates of smog and ozone. This pollution creates patients who suffer from wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath and increased susceptibility to infections. In fact, the frequency of high-ozone days causes the most health problems for the people in our metropolitan area. According to the American Lung Association’s 2021 State of the Air Report, Bernalillo County and Sandoval County both have a failing grade for ground-level ozone.

Fortunately, we also know how to improve our air quality and prevent health problems in our communities. Tailpipe pollution is the greatest contributor and, if addressed properly, we can significantly reduce harmful pollutants coming out of tailpipes and work to get rid of them altogether by putting the nation’s fleets on a path to 100% zero-emission electric vehicles.

This is why the Biden administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must work urgently to develop the next round of long-term clean-car standards to ensure nothing but pollution-free light duty cars and trucks are being sold by 2035. The EPA deserves our gratitude for its swift work in undoing the damage done by the previous administration, which rolled back clean-car standards and allowed more polluting vehicles on the roads. However, attention must turn toward this critical next round of standards or we’ll risk losing precious time to clean up the transportation sector.

The strongest possible clean-car standards aren’t just a good thing for our patients and the air in our communities, but also for our economy. The transition to cleaner, zero-emission vehicles will create good jobs in a growing industry here while also saving drivers money in fuel costs every single day while drastically reducing health care expenses.

Strong emission standards are the best tool our policymakers have for reducing dangerous and deadly air pollution, in addition to combatting the climate crisis. Many of the most vulnerable New Mexicans are suffering the worst impacts of both toxic tailpipe pollution and climate change. As nurses and family nurse practitioners, we help care for our community every day but cannot do it alone. We need to stop people becoming patients, and we can through strong clean-car standards.

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