No parent should have to watch their child struggling to breathe, but that is the devastating reality for my family and that of many others. Our daughter had asthma as a child. An attack could be triggered by poor air quality, a high ozone day, or the dirty fumes of a diesel truck. The beginnings of a cold could develop into a cough, a wheeze, and a fight for air as her lungs filled with mucus. Our family spent long nights in fear as she grew worse, ending in ambulance rides to the ER. Our daily lives were built around managing the disease to keep her in a safe environment; we even drove her to school to avoid her breathing in the fumes from the diesel school bus.

Air pollution is a serious threat to public health. Besides causing or worsening asthma, a host of respiratory illnesses, and lung cancer, it is linked to heart disease, neurological disorders, preterm births and thousands of premature deaths annually.

Connecticut has some of the worst air quality in the country. This is especially true in our cities and areas of congested traffic, where asthma rates are soaring. Emissions from cars, trucks, and buses are the greatest source of greenhouse gas emissions in our state at nearly 40 percent. Pollutants from transportation include particulate matter (PM), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), benzene, and formaldehyde.

But we have a solution at our fingertips to clean up our air and pave the course for a better future for kids and all of us. Right now, our state is considering a plan to strengthen regulations on emissions from cars, trucks, and buses. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environment has issued draft proposals to adopt the California zero-emission standards for light-, medium-, and heavy-duty vehicles here.

As a mom, I would have done anything to prevent our daughter from getting asthma. But I couldn’t control the air! Not by myself, but together with thousands of other concerned residents, we now have the opportunity to support strong standards for vehicle emissions that will reduce air pollution in Connecticut and improve public health.

Reducing emissions from vehicles would help to clean our air, prevent chronic health diseases like asthma, and help the state to reduce its climate pollution. The state clean car standards would require a 90 percent reduction of emissions from gas-powered vehicles and that 100 percent of new passenger vehicle sales be zero-emission vehicles by 2035. These standards are predicted to lower emissions by 30 percent by 2030, a huge step towards improving our air quality, and to meeting our state’s own  climate goals.

The American Lung Association calculates that, if all new passenger vehicle sales are electric vehicles by 2035, Connecticut will see $11.5 billion in monetized healthcare benefits between 2020-2050. Connecticut residents would experience 22,900 fewer asthma attacks and avoid 1,060 premature deaths. A CT DEEP report estimates that the clean truck proposal will lower medium- and heavy-duty vehicle emissions by 18 percent and save an estimated $1.4 billion in healthcare costs. Together, these changes would save thousands of lives.

This is a win-win for our planet, our communities, and our health. We have everything to gain.

I am grateful that our daughter is now a thriving adult, but we must act quickly to help other families avoid the heartbreaking illnesses caused by poor air quality in our state. Reducing transportation pollution is key and these two proposals are a huge step forward.

The public comment period is now open, and it is important to speak up in support of the stronger regulations. Submit comments for DEEP’s proposed regulation for clean cars and/or DEEP’s proposed regulation for clean trucks by 5 p.m. on August 23, 2023, to the Mobile Sources Group at [email protected].

Susan Eastwood, of Ashford, is chapter chair of Sierra Club Connecticut.

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