Almost two years later, I am still dealing with the lasting effects of COVID. As one of the 23 million long haulers in the U.S. I have a range of debilitating conditions, including permanent lung damage and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), even though I’ve never smoked a day in my life. COPD came on top of my diagnosis of asthma, a disease I have had for more than a decade.
My new normal is having to carry two inhalers. I grew up in Gardnerville loving to hike and camp and be outdoors. Now, at only 35 years old, I get short of breath while walking up a hill.
Nevada has some of the most polluted air in the country, according to the American Lung Association, and this air pollution is making my lung problems worse. My hometown of Carson City just received an “F” for particle pollution and ozone.
Sadly, our family is not alone – an unacceptable 137 million Americans live in counties with unhealthy air quality, and wildfires are increasingly contributing to dirty air. But there’s also what I can see from my front window on a daily basis: heavy diesel trucks traveling along U.S. Highway 395. Like 45 million people in the U.S., my family lives within 300 feet of a major roadway or transportation center.
Heavy duty vehicles spew dangerous nitrogen oxides and other pollutants into the air, causing harm to our respiratory health and children’s developing lungs, and accelerate climate change-fueled extreme weather events like wildfires. Communities of color and low-wealth communities are hit the hardest because they are more likely to live near ports, highways, and other areas with truck traffic.
In Nevada and nationwide, heavy duty truck pollution is an urgent matter of public health and environmental justice. That is why it is exciting to see the Biden administration making this issue a high priority. For the first time in more than 20 years, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed strengthening pollution standards for heavy duty trucks, including 18-wheelers, school buses, delivery trucks, and similar vehicles.
The EPA’s proposed rule is a good start, but it does not go far enough. I testified at the EPA’s public hearing on the rule recently and urged the agency to adopt standards that put America on a path toward 100 percent electrification of polluting big-rigs, trucks, and buses. All new trucks can and should be pollution-free by 2035, and EPA must lead the way to getting us there.
The good news is that electric freight trucks and buses will become less expensive to purchase and operate than diesel vehicles by 2027. Zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles are already available and more are under development. They are made in America and provide good jobs. In addition to the economic benefits, the transition to zero-emissions heavy duty trucks will save an estimated 57,000 lives. And they will help me and my boys breathe easier.
Going all-electric for trucks and buses isn’t without challenges. It will require the U.S. to increase production for minerals like lithium that are needed for batteries. We need to ensure that communities like mine in Nevada – near proposed lithium mines – are protected from mining pollution.
But electrifying heavy duty vehicles is a necessary transition. A key piece of that transition is getting forward-looking federal standards in place that quickly cut harmful pollution from heavy duty vehicles, meet the climate crisis, and protect the health of our communities. The EPA needs to strengthen its proposal for truck pollution. The health of me and my family depends on it.
Jennifer Ann Cantley is the Nevada state coordinator for Moms Clean Air Force, a national organization of more than 1 million parents. She is a mother of three sons and lives in Carson City.