With all the scandals, in-fighting, threats, taunts, firings, bragging, tweeting and name calling, President Trump’s White House is certainly “The Greatest Show on Earth.” But behind this circus tent and out of the limelight, dangerous, death-defying feats are under way that are anything but entertainment.

This administration’s anti-environmental act has been truly breathtaking. Last week’s ditching of the Clean Power Plan has been widely condemned. But, behind the headlines, Trump is also scrapping the most important opportunity to clean up Wasatch Front air in decades.

About half our year-round air pollution comes from vehicles. With population growth bringing ever more cars, UDOT following the Los Angeles blueprint for more freeways and more driving by all those cars, the amount of pollution per vehicle becomes all important in Utah.

The “clean car plan” developed by the Obama EPA, would greatly improve fuel efficiency standards for new vehicles built by 2025. The plan would raise mileage to an average of 51.4 mpg for new vehicles and reduce tail pipe pollution from those cars (ozone precursors and particulate pollution) about 40 percent.

Tier 3 is the second part of the clean car plan. Designed to work hand-in-glove with the improved mileage standards, Tier 3 consists of clean fuel requirements and pollution control device upgrades that would directly reduce pollution even further. In fact Tier 3 gasoline alone would be largely a wasted gesture for vehicles not engineered to meet the proposed new pollution technology. These two parts of the plan would reduce pollution emitted by new vehicles by 70 percent to 80 percent. This could be an air quality game changer on the Wasatch Front. Moreover, it would cost us nothing.

Buyers of these cleaner cars would pay about $1,000 extra, but that would be offset by reduced fuel costs, saving about $8,000 over the life of the car. Automakers would recoup the expense of new technology because energy efficient cars with lower operating costs are worth more to the consumer and command a higher price.

About 35,000-40,000 Americans die in automobile accidents every year. Given those large numbers, there is little political opposition to the requirement that manufacturers install seat belts and airbags which save about 13,000 lives a year, at a cost of somewhere around $3,000 per car.

By comparison, the pollution from all those vehicles is much more deadly, killing almost 60,000 people a year. The cost to reduce that pollution by about 80 percent is only $1,000 per vehicle. In other words, if implemented, these fuel efficiency standards would save far more lives, for far less money. For Wasatch Front residents, this is “just what the doctor ordered.”

Extrapolating from the latest nationwide study of 61 million people, UPHE’s prior estimate of 1,000-2,000 premature deaths in Utah from our air pollution has once again been validated. From thousands of other medical studies we’ve learned that pollution can penetrate virtually any cell in the body.

Millions of pollution particles are lodged in our brains, accumulate in the lining of our blood vessels, and trigger wide spread, chronic diseases of the heart, lungs, brain, endocrine and immune systems. Pollution harms fetal and childhood development, provokes poor pregnancy outcomes, shortens life spans, is a significant cause of cancer and can even alter genetic function, jeopardizing the health of future generations.

This clean car plan is a significant win for the climate, air quality, public health and for car buyers. The only losers would be the oil industry. Maybe that explains why, like a rogue circus elephant, the Trump administration is charging in to ruin everything. For reasons that defy science, common sense and simple risk management, the Trump Administration intends to pull the plug on this program.

Utah’s air quality problem is often blamed on a recalcitrant state Legislature. But our Legislature has been eager to embrace the Tier 3 plan, recently offering tax rebates to local oil refineries to jump start it. But it’s Utah’s congressional delegation that may be able to save this unprecedented opportunity to clean our air. Sens. Hatch and Lee, Reps. Bishop, Stewart and Love, when is the joint press conference where you announce support for the new fuel efficiency standards? Three million Utahns will be the victims if clean cars are run off the road by the clown car at the White House.

Dr. Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, speaks at a press conference, Wednesday, July 12, 2017.
Malin Moench

Brian Moench, M.D., is president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. Malin Moench has degrees in law and economics from the University of Utah. After 37 years of legal analysis and econometric modeling work for the federal government, he now volunteers for the Citizens Climate Lobby and is a senior policy advisor for Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.