Air pollution in Latinx communities is deadly; Biden can deliver cleaner air with EVs

This post was originally published in Spanish as an OpEd in El Diaro.

It is no coincidence that Latinx communities across the United States are more likely to breathe dangerous air. Decades of shortsighted and racist government policies have allowed freeways to bisect our neighborhoods, trucks to line our streets, and polluting industries to transform and denigrate our communities. And when breathing toxic air lands our community members in the emergency room - or worse - too often, governments and polluters look the other way.

Today, we are hopeful that the U.S. will finally enact the policy solutions needed to provide frontline communities with cleaner air and environmental justice. President Biden and Vice President Harris have both made commitments to address environmental racism through targeted investment in communities of color, and we are counting on them to follow through.

We will need a myriad of policy solutions to deliver the air quality relief our communities need, but given the transportation sector’s disproportionate impact on air quality, transitioning to clean electric cars, trucks, and busses should be top of the list for this new administration.

Polluting fossil fuel vehicles are responsible for more than half of the dangerous nitrogen oxides that pollute our air — and, from coast to coast, vehicle pollution disproportionately impacts communities of color.

In the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region, people of color breathe, on average, 66% more pollution from vehicles than white residents, and Latinx communities breathe an astounding 75% more vehicle air pollution, according to an analysis from the Union of Concerned scientists.

Across the country in California, the statistics are just as dire; Black, Latinx and Asian communities in the state are exposed to up to 43% higher levels of vehicle pollution than white Californians. Nationwide, Latinx people are twice as likely as white Americans to visit the emergency room seeking treatment for asthma.

Transitioning to clean electric vehicles can help deliver the healthier future our communities need. By 2050, widespread transportation electrification could save 6,300 lives, avoid more than 93,000 asthma attacks and 416,000 lost work days annually, and save $72 billion in avoided health harms, according to an analysis from the American Lung Association. But 2050 is decades away; there is an urgent need to implement actionable policy now.

As environmental justice groups, locality-based organizations, and other advocacy groups based in Latinx communities, we strongly urge the Biden administration to take immediate steps to equitably accelerate the transition to clean electric vehicles. As a coalition, we’re calling on the Biden administration to:

  • Phase-out the sale of new fossil fuel powered new vehicles sales by 2035. Several states - including California and Massachusetts - have already announced or plan to announce a 2035 sunset date for the sale of new fossil fuel cars. The Biden administration can build on state leadership with a national policy.

  • Mobilize to electrify all vehicles on the road by 2050. The urgency of both the health and climate crises facing our nation requires a complete phase out of all fossil fuel transportation. We must mobilize key federal agencies to use their regulatory powers to work towards a clear end date.

  • Invest in comprehensive and clean public transportation networks. Mobility is a crucial determinant of access to economic opportunity, healthcare, and social wellbeing. Communities of color are less likely to have access to a car and more likely to rely on public transit.

  • Establish clear and effective incentives for cutting pollution from trucks. Despite accounting for just 5% of vehicles on the road, medium and heavy duty trucks are responsible for 23% of transportation pollution. Electrifying trucks is key to delivering air quality improvements for communities living near transportation hubs.

  • Develop incentives for the manufacture and sale of clean electric vehicles and ensure that these vehicles are accessible to all. Communities that have disproportionately suffered health impacts from fossil fuel pollution should be first in line to gain from the money-saving benefits of clean electric vehicles.

  • Coordinate clean transportation action across federal agencies and in consultation with communities. Communities of color must have a seat at the table in decision making  as we chart a path to a healthier future for all.

Our communities can’t wait any longer to breathe clean air. With the newly-inaugurated Biden administration, we are hopeful we won’t have to. By putting the U.S. on a policy path toward 100% clean transportation, President Biden and Vice President Harris can make it evident that their commitment to environmental justice is more than just lip service. Now is the moment to do the critical work necessary to create effective and equitable clean transportation policy for all.

Andrea Marpillero-Colomina is a Clean Transportation Advocate with GreenLatinos and is based in New York City.

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