AUSTIN (KXAN) – When it comes to air quality, traffic plays a huge role. In 2013, more than half of the carbon monoxide in the U.S. was produced by passenger vehicles, according to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists. And this is an improvement.
Last century, air quality was much worse. In 1948, poor air quality in Donora, Penn. led to 20 deaths and respiratory issues for 7,000 others. In 1952, 2,000 people died in what is now known as the Great Smog of London. Both events were caused by an inversion in the atmosphere, trapping deadly pollution over the city.
The events, and others like them, led to the passing of the Clean Air Act in 1970. The legislation gave the Environmental Protection Agency the ability to regulate pollution generated by vehicles.
According to the EPA, it gave them the power to regulate certain pollutants such as hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide. Before the act was passed, cars produced a lot of the pollutants.
On average, a car could produce 13 grams per mile of hydrocarbons, 3.6 grams per mile of nitrogen oxide and 87 grams per mile of carbon monoxide. After the act, cars on average produce 99% less of these pollutants, according to the EPA. Additionally, fuels no longer contain lead and produce 90% less sulfur, and air quality in cities has vastly improved.
In 2010, the Clean Air Act was amended and the EPA gained the power to regulate greenhouse gasses produced by vehicles, such as carbon dioxide and methane.
The Clean Air Act and the EPA aren’t without their critics. Lobbyist groups argue that the EPA failed to study the impact their regulations have on small businesses. While conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation stated in 2011 that emissions were in the decline before the Clean Air Act was enacted as a result of technological advances.
It should be noted that The Heritage Foundation is a known climate change denier and has received funding in the past from energy company Exxon Mobile.
For the EPA, the future is electric. Electric vehicles don’t release any pollutants, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The EPA says that the emissions released to generate power for EV charging are a fraction that of what gas vehicles produce.
Earlier this year, President Joe Biden announced plans to spend nearly $2 billion to encourage Americans to go electric.