Clean cars rollback would increase pollutants — EIS

Source: Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Sunday, August 5, 2018

Even though the Trump administration says rolling back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards would save lives, its own analysis shows the situation is more complex.

“It could save up to 1,000 lives annually,” Heidi King, deputy administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said about the rulemaking during a call with reporters yesterday.

But the draft environmental impact statement — required by the National Environmental Policy Act and posted to NHTSA’s and EPA’s websites yesterday and published on today — makes clear the agencies’ direction would increase air pollution and related illnesses and deaths.

“The EIS provides findings for air quality impacts for 2025, 2035, and 2050,” the document says. “In general, emissions of criteria air pollutants increase across all alternatives, with some exceptions.”

The document focuses on sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and four other “criteria” pollutants that EPA is required to regulate under regularly updated standards.

The Trump administration is outlining a series of eight alternatives for the car rules. The preferred alternative is freezing fuel economy targets at 2020 levels through 2026 (Greenwire, Aug. 2).

Every option would increase nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), with the largest uptick occurring under the preferred option, the draft EIS says.

That could lead to smoggier skies. Ozone, a lung irritant and the main ingredient in smog, is spawned by the reaction of NOx and VOCs in sunlight.

The document explicitly links the increases in criteria pollutants with negative public health effects. “All action alternatives would result in increased adverse health impacts (mortality, acute bronchitis, respiratory emergency room visits and work-loss days) nationwide,” it states.

In addition to criteria pollutants, the document also recognizes that the preferred option would cause an uptick in mobile-source air toxics (MSATs), including benzene, formaldehyde and diesel particulate matter (DPM).

“MSATs are also associated with adverse health impacts,” the analysis says. “For example, EPA classifies acetaldehyde, benzene, 1,3-butadiene, formaldehyde, and certain components of DPM as either known or probable human carcinogens. Many MSATs are also associated with noncancer health impacts, such as respiratory irritation.”

EPA air chief Bill Wehrum yesterday tacitly acknowledged that the proposal would lead to “incrementally less protection of health and the environment.”

But, he added, “We at EPA can’t put blinders on and seek emissions reductions at the exclusion of all the other considerations. In fact, the law requires us to look at all the other relevant factors. … We consider highway safety, just as NHTSA does. And what we want to do is occupy a sweet spot here.”