Pollution

Latinos have an air pollution crisis — we demand cleaner cars

For too many Latino communities in the United States, exposure to dangerous air pollutants represents a daily threat to our health.

While Latinos create proportionately less pollution than white people, Latino children are roughly three times more likely than non-Hispanic white children to live in a county where air pollution levels exceed federal air quality standards. Nearly one-third of Latino children live in counties where hazardous air pollutant concentrations exceed a 1-in-10,000 cancer risk level.

To tackle this air pollution crisis in our communities, we need strong clean cars standards that will cut dangerous tailpipe pollution that will reduce exposure to dangerous air pollutants in our communities. At the same time, we need investments in electric vehicle infrastructure to lower our dependence on fossil fuels, save energy, as well as support economic growth.

In the first year of the Biden administration, we have made key progress toward these aims. Last month, President Biden announced a commitment from automakers to invest in producing electric vehicles, which could account for up to half of US sales by 2030. In December , the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its final rulemaking to create stronger standards for cars that are manufactured from 2022 through 2026. Thanks in large part to tireless advocacy from clean air and sustainable transportation advocates, the standards proposed by the EPA, if adopted , would be the most stringent emissions standards ever set for passenger cars.

These standards are coming not a moment too soon. The planet is warming, and climate anxiety is palpable across racial, age and economic lines.

The drive toward change has continued into the early days of 2022. In February, the Biden administration announced a one-two punch of electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure implementation that will streamline the transition to clean cars, and that gives teeth to existing White House commitment to build out a network of 500,000 public EV chargers nationwide.

The Departments of Transportation and Energy announced that they’ll make $5 billion available over the next five years to help states create a network of electric vehicle charging stations along designated Alternative Fuel Corridors. This is part of a new National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program created as part of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed in November, which designates $7.5 billion in funding to build out a nationwide public EV charging network.

This commitment came on the heels of a White House announcement promising several new electric vehicle charger manufacturing and research commitments by industry leaders including Tritium and Siemens.

These actions represent an important move toward making both EV charging and new manufacturing jobs accessible to all, and will address a key road bump: A 2020 survey conducted by Consumer Reports found that the No. 1 concern holding people back from choosing an electric vehicle is access to public charging stations. This survey was not segmented by race, but given that charging deserts disproportionally impact majority non-white and lower-income neighborhoods, we can safely assume that lack of access to public charging infrastructure is a major concern for an even higher proportion for drivers who are people of color.

Our communities urgently need ongoing commitment to equitable access to clean cars, infrastructure and jobs. We owe it to our communities to stay engaged and keep applying pressure to the EPA’s next round of rulemaking around clean cars and electric vehicle infrastructure needed to create just transition to clean cars. This hands-on-the-wheel advocacy will make for a smooth ride as the US drives toward achieving energy and climate justice for all.

Andrea Marpillero-Colomina is sustainable communities program director at GreenLatinos.

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