Purifying our air with a vehicle repair and replacement program – The Nevada Independent
As leaders of public health organizations, we see Nevada residents struggling with asthma and allergies almost every day. These very common illnesses affect thousands of children in Nevada, filling emergency rooms and clinics, keeping children out of school, and forcing parents to miss work. However, not all of our children face the same levels of risk. Children who live near busy roads and highways are much more likely to cough, wheeze and sneeze. Exposure to air pollution from traffic increases their risk of asthma and allergies and can significantly worsen their symptoms. We could help these children with a reasonable solution: have the dirtiest vehicles repaired or take them off our roads.
This idea is now being considered thanks to AB 349, a bill that ended the “classic car loophole” that allowed tens of thousands of older, more polluting cars to avoid regular checks. smog. Clark and Washoe counties are now considering programs that would give vehicle owners vouchers to repair cars that fail their smog checks or help them buy a newer, more efficient vehicle. Over 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 produce significant health and economic benefits for the state. Similar programs in neighboring states are helping tens of thousands of families by providing repair vouchers of up to $850 or down payment vouchers of up to $9,500 towards the purchase of a new vehicle. These efforts have proven to be highly successful, with approximately 80% of vouchers redeemed and 98% of unregistered vehicles completing necessary repairs and DMV registration after years under the radar.
A program like this could bring significant air quality benefits to all Nevada residents. Las Vegas and Reno are both among the top 25 cities in the country with the most ozone pollution, mostly from vehicle exhaust. Cars, buses and trucks continue to spit a thick layer of smog over the Vegas and Washoe valleys, especially during hot weather or during temperature inversions. According to the American Lung Association, more than 40% of Americans live in communities with poor air quality, but for people in Nevada, the percentage is shocking. 94%—more than 2.8 million people.
Our most vulnerable pay the heaviest price. Children’s developing lungs can be permanently stunted by air pollution, with lifelong health consequences. Older people who breathe polluted air are more likely to suffer from heart attacks, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and premature death. People with chronic conditions tend to get sicker in bad air; people with diabetes, for example, may have a harder time managing their blood sugar on days with heavy pollution.
Emissions from power plants, factories and highways also contribute to health disparities, with lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color being the most exposed to pollutants. Providing rebates and incentives to families so they can repair or replace high-polluting vehicles ensures a fair solution to the health damage of transport emissions, putting financial and air quality benefits where they are most needed.
Removing these polluting cars from our roads would also benefit everyone else. The American Lung Association estimates that a transition to electric vehicles in Nevada – powered by zero-emission electricity like solar and wind power – would prevent up to 14,800 asthma attacks and save $7.5 billion in public health costs by 2050. It would also reduce Nevada’s largest source of climate-damaging greenhouse gases.
For all of these reasons, the Nevada Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Lung Association support the creation of a repair/replacement voucher program. We look forward to our local airline agencies piloting the program and urge Clark and Washoe County Commissions to secure longer-term funding to remove polluting cars from our roads. Because helping drivers switch to cleaner cars is an urgent next step in creating a sustainable and healthy future for us all.
Debra Hendrickson, MD, FAAP, is a climate advocate with the Nevada Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Melissa Ramos, MPA, is a manager with the Clean Air Advocacy group at the AmErican Lung Association.