That climate change is both a public health crisis and an environmental crisis should come as no surprise.
The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Department now recognizes smoke from wildfires as a threat to workers, and extreme heat killed over 100 people during last year’s Oregon heat dome. The July heatwave was one of the longest on record Heat warnings across the state, Gov. Kate Brown declared states of emergency in 25 counties and Multnomah County investigated three possible heat-related deaths.
The combination of heat, lack of wind, and pollution resulted in air quality alerts along Interstate 5 and Interstate 84 across the state. At the federal level, the West Virginia Supreme Court’s decision against EPA, which ignored precedent, has compromised the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to protect the public from harmful air pollution.
With this in mind, it is more important than ever that we act at the state level to protect public health from the impending catastrophe of climate change. We can begin now by strengthening and expanding one of our most effective tools to reduce our reliance on expensive, volatile fossil fuels and create healthier communities: the Clean Fuels program, which uses financial incentives to encourage suppliers to sell lower-carbon transportation fuels to encourage. In the six years that the Clean Fuels program has been active, it has saved 6 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution and replaces 1.5 billion Gallons of gas with cleaner fuels without raising prices at the pump.
This is an important climate benefit. It is also an important public health asset. In addition to climate pollution, the burning of fossil fuels produces other air toxins such as particulate matter – or soot – and nitrogen oxides.
All Oregon residents pay with their health and wallets for the damage caused by burning fossil fuels, but low-income people and communities of color pay the most because they tend to have more burdens and fewer resources to deal with the resulting challenges address in healthcare.
According to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, soot from diesel engine exhaust is responsible each year to the an estimated 176 premature deaths25,810 lost workdays and $3.5 billion in annual healthcare costs from exposure.
The beauty of the Clean Fuels program is that it not only reduces pollution but also invests in healthier solutions.
Several Oregon school districts have purchased their first electric buses with program proceeds to give kids a healthier, quieter ride. Companies from private truck fleets to TriMet only use renewable diesel made possible by the Clean Fuels Program. Nonprofits like Meals on Wheels and the Native American Youth and Family Center have received electric vehicles so they can spend more on delivering their services and less on fuel and maintenance.
Low-income people in Corvallis have received grants for electric bikes. EV charging stations have popped up across the state from Pendleton to Klamath Falls to Forest Grove with investments from Clean Fuels. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, the same program also reduces harmful local air pollution, resulting in healthier neighborhoods and millions of dollars in healthcare savings each year.
The Clean Fuels Program is a win-win for climate change and public health. This fall, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality should expand the program’s carbon intensity reduction goals and maximize that program’s potential to invest in a healthier, more resilient future.