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A new report finds a widespread shift to zero-emission vehicles would clean the air and curb health and climate impacts, resulting in cost savings of tens of billions of dollars a year to society.

Report reveals ‘true’ cost of gasoline-powered transportation

Oct. 28, 2016
Study finds robust Zero Emission Vehicle program will save Americans tens of billions of dollars each year

A new report finds over-reliance on petroleum based fuels for transportation costs 10 U.S. states $37 billion in health expenses and climate costs every year – with California costs alone hitting $15 billion – and that moving to emission-free vehicles would save lives and money.

The report, Clean Air Future: Health and Climate Benefits of Zero Emission Vehicles, was produced by the American Lung Association in California. It finds a widespread shift to zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) would clean the air and curb health and climate impacts, resulting in cost savings of tens of billions of dollars a year to society.

“For the average driver, every tank of gas burned costs $18.42 in hidden health and climate costs,” said Bonnie Holmes-Gen, senior director of Air Quality and Climate Change with the American Lung Association in California. “Relying almost exclusively on oil for transportation hurts our air, our health, and our environment. The answer is to move to passenger vehicles that run on clean, renewable energy, and the Zero Emission Vehicle program that has been adopted by 10 states is key.”

Clean Air Future looks at data for California and nine other states that have adopted the California Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program: Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont. The report analyzes current and projected emissions while looking at the societal benefits of policies designed to transition to a zero-emission fleet over the coming decades – benefits often overlooked in debates over ZEV policy.

According to the report, every year, pollution from passenger vehicles costs the 10 ZEV states about $24 billion in health costs. That includes:

  • 220,000 lost work days
  • 109,000 asthma exacerbations
  • Hundreds of thousands of other respiratory health impacts, and
  • 2,580 premature deaths

To clarify regional costs, the report breaks down the costs of smog, soot and climate pollution caused by passenger vehicles in each of the 10 ZEV states. As of 2015, those costs – in order of magnitude – are:

  • California: $15 billion
  • New York: $7.9 billion
  • New Jersey: $4.6 billion
  • Massachusetts: $2.9 billion
  • Maryland: $2.6 billion
  • Connecticut: $1.4 billion
  • Oregon: $1.3 billion
  • Maine: $513 million
  • Rhode Island: $407 million
  • Vermont: $347 million

“I see the toll traffic pollution takes every day in my practice,” said Dr. Afif El-Hasan, a pediatrician serving Southern California, who also serves on the California Lung Association’s Governing Board. “When we talk about zero-emission vehicle policies, we must not forget that air pollution makes people sick. That includes everyone from little children to family breadwinners. Pollution can even kill. Slashing vehicle emissions through the ZEV program can save lives.”

The report finds that a sustained, strong push to put ZEVs on the road – including battery-powered, plug-in hybrid, and fuel-cell vehicles – could, by 2030, save $13 billion in health costs across the 10 ZEV-program states. That includes avoiding 1,429 premature deaths annually. By 2050 – when the majority of ZEV states have agreed to aim for 100 percent ZEV sales – annual benefits grow to $20 billion health savings, including 2,246 fewer premature deaths each year.

In addition to health costs, the report calculates savings from reduced climate impacts, including agricultural productivity, property damages from increased flood risk, climate-related health costs, and the value of ecosystem services like pollination and clean drinking water. The report finds widespread ZEV adoption would result in climate benefits including $5.5 billion annual savings in 2030, and $12.8 billion annual savings in 2050.

“If you add up the numbers, the results are clear: a strong Zero Emission Vehicle program is good for America’s health, and good for its pocketbook, too,” said Holmes-Gen.

Later this year, California will begin a scheduled mid-term review of its ZEV policy, which requires 15 percent of cars sold by 2025 to be ZEVs, and which is expected to put 1.5 million ZEVs on the road by 2025. The California Air Resources Board has also stated that the vast majority of cars on the road (in 2050) must be zero-emission vehicles if California is going to meet its climate goal to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

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