That climate change is a public health crisis as well as an environmental crisis should come as no surprise.
Oregon’s Department of Occupational Safety and Health already recognizes smoke from wildfires as a threat to workers, and extreme heat killed more than 100 people in Oregon during last year’s heat dome. July’s heat wave was one of the longest on record, leading to statewide heat advisories, Gov. Kate Brown is declaring a state of emergency in 25 counties and Multnomah County is investigating three possible heat-related deaths.
The combination of heat, lack of wind and pollution is leading to air quality advisories along Interstate 5 and Interstate 84 across the state. At the federal level, the Supreme Court’s decision in West Virginia v. EPA, which ignored precedent, stripped the EPA of its ability to protect the public from harmful air pollution.
With this in mind, it is more important than ever that we act at the state level to protect public health from the impending disaster of climate change. We can start now by strengthening and expanding one of our most effective tools for reducing our dependence on expensive, volatile fossil fuels and creating healthier communities: the Clean Fuels Program, which uses financial incentives to encourage suppliers to sell transport fuels with lower carbon emissions. In the six years the Clean Fuels Program has been active, it has reduced 6 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution and replaced 1.5 billion gallons of gasoline with cleaner fuels without increasing pump prices.
This is an important victory for the climate. It’s also an important victory for public health. In addition to generating climate pollution, burning fossil fuels generates other air toxics, such as particulate matter – or soot – and nitrogen oxides.
All Oregonians pay for the damage caused by burning fossil fuels with their health and their pockets, but people living on low incomes and communities of color pay the most because they tend to have more exposure and fewer resources. to meet the ensuing challenges in healthcare.
According to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, soot from diesel engine exhaust is responsible each year for approximately 176 premature deaths25,810 lost work days and $3.5 billion in annual health care costs from exposure.
The beauty of the Clean Fuels Program is that it not only reduces pollution, but also invests in healthier solutions.
Several school districts in Oregon purchased their first electric buses with proceeds from the program, providing children with a healthier and quieter ride. Businesses from private truck fleets to TriMet use exclusively renewable diesel, made possible by the Clean Fuels Program. Nonprofits like Meals on Wheels and the Native American Youth and Family Center received electric vehicles so they could spend more on providing their services and less on fuel and maintenance.
People living on low incomes in Corvallis have received subsidies for electric bicycles. Electric vehicle charging stations have popped up across the state from Pendleton to Klamath Falls to Forest Grove with investments in clean fuels. As if that weren’t impressive enough, the same program also reduces harmful local air pollution, leading to healthier neighborhoods and millions of dollars in health care savings each year.
The Clean Fuels Program is a win-win for climate change and public health. This fall, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is set to expand the program’s goals to reduce carbon intensity and maximize that program’s potential to invest in a healthier, more sustainable future.