NJ environmentalists fight EPA rollbacks of vehicle emission standards

A gorgeous day at the beach in Long Branch belied a political storm raging between New Jersey and the Trump administration over protecting clean air regulations from looming rollbacks by the EPA. If Trump’s EPA strikes those rules, it could mean higher fuel costs and dirtier air for New Jersey residents, according to an environmental coalition.

“And my understanding is from the environmental groups that are here that organized this event is that could happen as soon as next week, so this event is obviously very timely,” said Rep. Frank Pallone. “It’s bad for consumers. It’s bad for public health. It’s bad for the car industry.”

Six years ago, the Obama administration set goals for 2025 to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent and reduce fuel consumption by 40 percent. Car makers were aiming for vehicles that’d get 54.5 miles per gallon.

“This is part of where you keep the costs down, because if you have emissions that are much more efficient, you’re not going to have the same prices of gas, the same car prices. We’re going to save money in terms of our cars in the long-run,” said Assemblywoman Joann Downey.

“And this is about our future, about being able to have cars that we don’t have to worry about tailpipe emissions. That we don’t have to worry about all the pollution. So we’re here today to tell that ‘fossil fool’ in the White House: hands off our clean cars,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the NJ Sierra Club.

Forty-two percent of New Jersey’s greenhouse gas pollution comes from tailpipes — cars and trucks. The greater New York area, including 13 northern New Jersey counties, ranks tenth-worst in the nation for ozone levels this year, according to a recent report. Increased emissions could have a profound impact on health in a state where 600,000 people suffer from asthma.

“It means that we’re going to have more asthma attacks. We’re going to have more premature deaths. We’re going to have more strokes. We’re going to have more heart disease. We’re going to have more emergency room visits,” said Amy Goldsmith, Clean Water Action state director.

New Jersey’s already joined other states to sue the EPA over its plans to weaken rules governing clean air: large, polluting trucks and hydrofluorocarbons, a damaging compound that was restricted for use in aerosols and refrigerants. Advocates called it a states’ rights issue. It’s a concept which in the past even attracted some Republican support.

“New Jersey has joined California and more than 10 other states to have these clean car standards. It’s up to us and it is right that New Jersey kept stronger standards than the feds. And President Trump is going after us. We’re going to come together and stop this,” Environment New Jersey Director Doug O’Malley said.

A recent poll shows 74 percent, or three out of four New Jersey voters, supports state government action to reduce air pollution. That’ll be one of many issues on the voters minds when they head to the polls in November.