Cutting tailpipe pollution starts at home
Tailpipes are significant contributors to air pollution.

Dear Editor,

For Leslie Vasquez, an activist with South Bronx Unite, the same word describes the need and the timeline for New York City to act on climate pollution — immediate.

The city's health department has found that New York City has the highest density of particle air pollution of any large American city, and some neighbourhoods suffer more than others. Tailpipe emissions contribute to a rate of emergency room visits for asthma tied to particle pollution that is eight times higher in communities that face environmental injustice.

The costs aren't just short term. Some neighbourhoods have average life expectancies that are a decade lower than more affluent parts of the city.

The city moved four years ago to cut greenhouse gases from its largest culprit: buildings. Less has been done to curb emissions from its second-largest source, one that government officials, journalists, advocates, and activists in New York City this week for Climate Week will have to confront just like residents do every day — pollution from tailpipes.

The city government can take a huge step to cut that pollution by addressing its own fleet, which at more than 30,000 vehicles is the largest of any municipality in the country. A city council proposal backed by Majority Leader Keith Powers and many environmental and climate justice groups would require the city to go to zero-emission vehicles, essentially by 2035 — every police car, ambulance, fire truck, sanitation truck, school bus, and street sweeper.

The proposal is the most ambitious of its kind in the nation, setting specific deadlines to end the purchase of each vehicle class. Powers and representatives from the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Sierra Club will describe it to Climate Week participants on Wednesday.

As a state, New York is trying to lead in cutting pollution from transportation, specifically government-operated vehicles. Last year, New York set a target to make sure all 50,000 school buses across the state are electric by 2035.

Protecting children in that way is a laudable start. The next step must be to prioritise communities like the South Bronx to be the first to feel this relief.

In 2019, New York City stepped up to take on climate pollution from buildings. The Climate Mobilization Act will cut greenhouse gas emissions from buildings by 40 per cent, with buildings bigger than 25,000 square feet required to meet strict pollution standards beginning next year.

The city is poised to take the next step by creating a zero-emissions fleet. If it does, New York City will combat the climate crisis, safeguard the health of New Yorkers, and send a signal to cities and towns across the United States about what is possible.

Ben Jealous

Director of the Sierra Club


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