Yesterday on The PediaBlog, we learned about the Trump administration’s new proposal rolling back important environmental (climate) and health rules that regulate fuel efficiency standards and air pollution emissions. The new proposal, called the Safer Affordable Fuel Efficiency (SAFE) Vehicle Rule, weakens the current CAFE standards and allows more emissions of air pollution and planet warming carbon dioxide. At a hearing concerning the SAFE rule held by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Downtown Pittsburgh last week, my colleague, Dr. Walter Tsou, remarked that if the SAFE rule is enacted, “climate change could get so bad that the only vehicle that we will need to buy is not a car. It will be an ark.”

In his testimony, Matthew Mehalik, Ph.D., executive director of the Breathe Project in Pittsburgh, zoomed in on the Pittsburgh metropolitan area where air pollution is — and has been for a long time — terrible:

From the perspective of Pittsburgh, our region already suffers from some of the worst air pollution in the United States. According to a Clean Air Task Force analysis of our region’s pollution sources from the National Emissions Inventory, mobile sources, such as cars, trucks and buses are the second largest contributor to our region’s pollution, accounting for approximately one-fourth of our region’s pollution, such as small particles and ozone. Air quality ranks “not good” between one half and two-thirds of all days in our region…

Allegheny County ranks in the top 2 percent of counties in the U.S. for cancer risk from air pollution.

Our air poses a significant threat to public health with an increased risk of heart and lung disease, asthma, diabetes, cancer and premature death.


Less is more, says Dr. Mehalik:

How often can it be said that doing nothing is the best thing? I urge regulators to embrace “Alternative 0.” Do nothing. Do not enact these rollbacks. Do not harm our region’s health, economy, air quality, security, and climate.


Of the 140 participants who attended last week’s hearing, not one applauded the SAFE rule, according to Oliver Morrison. A number of health professionals were heard from, including pediatric/adolescent medicine specialist, Dr. Karen Hacker, who also happens to be the director of the Allegheny County Health Department:

“Ozone is known to trigger health problems, particularly for children, the elderly and people with existing lung diseases. Only EPA has the authority to control vehicular emissions. This rule change diminishes the most significant part of our ozone reduction strategy. We need the EPA to protect the public’s health by supporting the national health-based ozone standard.”


One teenager spoke up…

Abigail Segel, a sophomore at Allderdice High School, signed up to speak at the hearing after learning about environmental issues at summer camp and then getting involved with the local environmental group PennEnvironment.

“In my decade and a half living in America, I have inhaled the equivalent of about 5,500 cigarettes, when in reality I’ve never touched one,” Segel said as her mom, Sara, recorded her testimony from the front row. “It is shameful that so many Americans — 150,000 — die prematurely each year from preventable pollution-related causes.”


… and a concerned mother…

“As a mother, I cannot agree with any proposal that would undermine the progress that has been made with the Clean Car standards… Our future generations depend on the current generation to make sound decisions for our health, safety and environment.”


… and your pediatrician, too:

“My name is Dr. Ned Ketyer. I am a pediatrician with Pittsburgh-based Pediatric Alliance. I have come to speak today as a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Environmental Health, a consultant with SW Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, a board member of Physicians for Social Responsibility — Pennsylvania, a Climate Reality Project Leader, and as a member of the Breathe Collaborative here in Pittsburgh.

Welcome to Pittsburgh!

There is no controversy or doubt about how the components of air pollution from cars, SUVs, and trucks impact health. We have known for decades that:

>  Carbon monoxide (CO) is toxic to every human.

>  Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the principle greenhouse gas responsible for global warming and climate change.

>  Particulate matter (PM2.5) tiny enough to enter the deepest areas of the lungs causes lung damage, heart disease, and cancer. It complicates pregnancies, impairs infant and child brain development, makes children with asthma sicker and adults with heart disease more likely to have heart attacks.

>  Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like benzene, expelled from tailpipes when gasoline is consumed in cars and trucks, causes leukemia in children.

>  Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons cause cancer and are associated with physical and cognitive delays in young children by acting as endocrine disrupting chemicals.

>  Nitrogen dioxide (NOx) is a major component of ground level ozone (smog) which damages the growth of the lungs of infants and children and diminishes the lung function of every human, regardless of age or health status.


More air pollution means more birth defects, more developmental and learning problems, more suffering for those with lung diseases, heart disease, and mental illness, more adult-onset dementia, more cancer, and more premature deaths.

And more carbon dioxide emissions mean more global warming. Scientists have studied, and now we can all see for ourselves, the impacts of global warming on our land, our oceans, our societies, and our health. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by strengthening emissions and fuel efficiency standards in cars, SUVs, and light trucks is essential in order to address this climate emergency.

Weakening emissions and fuel efficiency standards is indefensible. It’s irresponsible. It’s climate change denialism on full display. Like so many other environmental protections that have already been rolled back and repealed, this proposal should keep everyone in this room who cares about the health and safety of their children and grandchildren awake at night.”


(Photo credit: Walter Tsou, M.D., M.P.H.)