Urban Air Pollution Is Still A Problem: No ‘Grand Bargain’ On Pollution

Gregg Easterbrook offers this, erm, Third Way Grand Bargain on air pollution and global warming:

Decades ago the E.P.A.’s target for urban smog levels was 120 parts per billion of air. The level has gone down in stages to 75 parts per billion today; last week the E.P.A. dropped the target to 70 parts per billion. But the smog-forming emissions that could be stopped in a cost-effective manner have for the most part already been stopped, while naturally occurring smog, a fair share of the problem, cannot be eradicated at any price. A point of diminishing returns may have been reached, where knocking out the next increment of smog would require substantial expenditures for slight gains in public health.

Meanwhile the Clean Air Act is silent on greenhouse gases, because when the law was written, global warming was a fuzzy hypothesis. Today there is persuasive scientific proof of artificially triggered climate change.

As I noted five years ago, this is what “slight gains in public health” means (boldface mine; pdf):

We find that reductions in traffic congestion generated by E-ZPass reduced the incidence of prematurity and low birth weight among mothers within 2km of a toll plaza by 6.7-9.1% and 8.5-11.3% respectively, with larger effects for African-Americans, smokers, and those very close to toll plazas. There were no immediate changes in the characteristics of mothers or in housing prices in the vicinity of toll plazas that could explain these changes, and the results are robust to many changes in specification. The results suggest that traffic congestion is a significant contributor to poor health in affected infants. Estimates of the costs of traffic congestion should account for these important health externalities.

The data from New Jersey were collected from 1997 – 2002 and from Pennsylvania between 1994 – 2003: we’re not talking about pollutionmobiles from the 1970s and 1980s. And this is just, according to the paper, less than a ten percent reduction in one source of air pollution.

There has to be a way to tackle global warming without sacrificing childhood health. One would think a newspaper based in an urban area would get this.

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1 Response to Urban Air Pollution Is Still A Problem: No ‘Grand Bargain’ On Pollution

  1. dr2chase says:

    Seems to me we could start by banning two-stroke motors in whatever forms still exist. Mopeds, outboards, and some leafblowers are still 2-stroke as near as I can tell, and they are as filthy as dozens, if not hundreds, of modern automobiles. If we had per-mile road taxes, we could add a surcharge for very polluting autos; don’t ban them, if someone chooses to keep an antique auto road-worthy or uses their stinky truck for once-a-week heavy hauling, but make it uneconomical to use them a lot.

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