Jane Warner and Wendy Greuel: Clean cars - it's a California thing

(November 22, 2011)

It is a good month for Californians who prefer to breathe freely -- especially the 90 percent of us who live where the air is unhealthy. For example, the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area, including Riverside and Long Beach, has the worst air in the nation in terms of ozone pollution, better known as smog.

The California Air Resources Board once again has stepped forward to lead the nation with an ambitious plan to clean up air pollution caused by passenger cars, SUVs and light trucks. Last week, CARB provided a preview of its plan for updating the state's Zero-Emission Vehicle Program, smog standards for vehicles, and its plan for ensuring that there are clean alternative fuels such as hydrogen and electricity for advanced clean cars that are coming to market. In addition, CARB will release its updated greenhouse gas emission standards that dovetail with new national GHG emissions and fuel-efficiency requirements that were announced last week.

This is a new era for our state's clean cars program. And, thanks to California's groundbreaking efforts over the past four decades in tackling one of the biggest causes of dangerous air pollution -- emissions from passenger cars and light trucks -- Californians will be breathing easier for decades to come.

As president and CEO of the American Lung Association in California and Los Angeles city controller, we know all too well the health and financial consequences of living with some of the dirtiest air in the country. Our doctors see the human toll each day in hospitals and emergency rooms, and emergency personnel stand on the front lines of the air pollution battle in our communities. This package of new standards points us squarely in the right direction to finally achieve healthier air in our region -- and as an added benefit, will help boost our economy by creating new jobs.

A recent lung association study found that cleaning up our state's vehicles will prevent more than 400 premature deaths each year. We can avoid hundreds of heart attacks and emergency room visits, thousands of asthma attacks, and tens of thousands of lost work and school days annually by transitioning to cleaner cars. Add it all up and stronger standards mean savings -- in terms of health care, environmental, and societal costs -- of more than $7 billion each year.

As co-chairs of the California Clean Cars Campaign, we have heard from other members representing diverse facets of our society, including business leaders, community groups and consumer advocates. They have made it clear that cleaner cars are good not just for our health, but they make California a better place to live by creating green jobs and improve our quality of life and our environment as well.

Because California is the nation's biggest auto market, our stronger standards spur automobile manufacturers to innovate. Thanks to California's rules, today's cleanest gasoline cars and hybrids are commonplace on highways in the state as well as across the nation. Now we're starting to see a huge increase in battery electric and plug-in hybrid cars, too.

In the coming months, as CARB accepts public input before finalizing the standards, we must ensure that these rules stay strong. We must keep the goal of protecting human and environmental health firmly in mind while we embrace the economic opportunity and consumer benefits that advanced vehicle technologies bring to California.

Our state has led the nation in clean vehicle standards. The last time around, 14 states and the District of Columbia joined in adopting California's clean cars program. With these latest improvements in our clean car standards, California's pioneering commitment continues to lead the way. Bold moves like this -- that promise to clean our cars and clear the air -- show that California is up to the challenge.

Jane Warner is president and CEO of the American Lung Association in California. Wendy Greuel is Los Angeles city controller. They are co-chairs of the California Clean Car Campaign.