Commentary: Scott Pruitt has been in the news a lot recently. The EPA Administrator is now the subject of more than a dozen federal investigations, thanks to his ethically questionable behavior and cavalier disregard for taxpayer money. But while Pruitt’s ethical scandals are a major cause for concern, they don’t directly threaten the health of our community. The same cannot be said for Pruitt’s systematic dismantling of key environmental safeguards.
While the media continues to focus on his ethical violations, Pruitt is quietly working to weaken many programs designed to protect public health. Of particular concern to our region is Pruitt’s work to weaken air pollution standards for motor vehicles.
Motor vehicles are a major contributor to air pollution in our area. Hundreds of thousands of vehicles pass through our community each day on Interstate 10. The pollution from this traffic is exacerbated by emissions from cars and trucks idling at border crossings. Overall, motor vehicles are responsible for the majority of the air pollution affecting our community.
The problem will get much worse if Pruitt has his way. In 2016, EPA closed a loophole that allowed heavy-duty truck manufacturers to avoid emission standards by installing a used engine and power train into an otherwise new truck. EPA scientists found that these so-called “glider” trucks produced up to 40 times as much pollution as other new trucks, and that, if left unregulated, their emissions would cause as many as 1,600 premature deaths a year.
Despite heavy opposition from just about everyone—including states, public health groups, and the trucking industry—Pruitt has proposed to reopen the glider truck loophole. This would allow companies to produce an unlimited number of new trucks that are non-compliant with modern emission standards, causing more asthma attacks, heart attacks, and premature deaths in our community.
Pruitt is also seeking to weaken fuel economy standards for cars and trucks. Existing regulations require vehicle manufacturers to increase the average fuel economy of their fleet to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. These standards were designed to cut carbon pollution, which contributes to global warming and, indirectly, to worsened smog. They were expected to reduce particulate pollution, saving hundreds of lives every year. As icing on the cake, the standards would have saved the average vehicle owner thousands of dollars in fuel costs.
Ignoring these benefits, Pruitt is working to freeze the fuel economy rule. If Pruitt has his way, manufacturers will no longer need to improve the efficiency of their vehicles after 2020. Because our region is expected to experience a significant increase in vehicle traffic in coming decades, freezing fuel efficiency at current levels would result in increased pollution loads, and worsened health impacts, in our community.
Luckily, some in our community are fighting back. New Mexico’s Attorney General, Hector Balderas, is leading the way. Balderas has joined comments opposing Pruitt’s efforts to reopen the glider truck loophole and freeze fuel economy standards. If Pruitt finalizes these proposals, we can count on Balderas to take him to court.
As a New Mexican, I am proud to know that my attorney general is fighting for children with asthma, the elderly, and other vulnerable members of our community. But more could be done to present a united front. The Cities of El Paso, Sunland Park, and Las Cruces should join Balderas in pushing back against Pruitt’s agenda. Ordinary citizens can raise their voices by sending comments to EPA and speaking with their elected officials about the need to reduce air pollution. Together, we can protect the quality of our environment and the health of our community.
David Baake is an environmental lawyer based in Las Cruces