Should We Regulate the Usage of Mobile Sources of Air Pollution?

While the idea of regulating the amount of usage of mobile sources of air pollution seems promising, it is very unrealistic.  Americans take great pride in their cars and restricting their usage would not be well received.  Also, regulations would also be extremely difficult to enforce.  How are we to enforce the usage of leaf blowers?  Do we start placing usage meters on mobile equipment?  Do we establish a municipal police force solely dedicated to mobile source pollution?  What would this do to our taxes?  What rights would this type of “force” have to enter the property of one’s home without the appropriate warrant?  This would be an overly-bureaucratic government!

We are a mobile populace who relies heavily on our cars and other forms of mobile transportation to get us to a wide variety of environments from the workplace to vacation destinations.  Limiting their use would inflict further wound to a suffering American economy. Now let me be clear, I am not advocating a public free-for-all.  Instead, I propose that we regulate the vehicles and equipment themselves.

Some of you may be thinking, “What about heavily polluted areas?!”  To this I must ask, “How many leaf blowers have you seen being operated in New York City?”  Also, many people do not own cars because there isn’t a compelling need for one.  My brother is one of them.  He sold his car when he moved to Manhattan.  Of course, he always takes mine when he comes home but that is an entirely different topic!  You would also be hard-pressed to find any lawn mowers operating in the City as well.

I am sure many of you have been squeezed into a subway at one point or another.  I cannot help but wonder how much air pollution is actually prevented through use of public transportation in NYC.  My efforts to find research quantifying this has unfortunately failed.  Understandably, this is very difficult to estimate.  However, I did find that gasoline consumption in NYC is at the same rate the national average was in the 1920s (Jervey, 2006).  In fact, NYC’s dense population and low automobile dependence help make New York among the most energy efficient in all of the United States (Owens, 2004).

My point is there must be a balance achieved between usage and toxic emissions of mobile sources of air pollution which can be most efficiently achieved through pragmatic, enforceable regulations.  Examples include improving fuel economy and minimizing emissions through idling policies.  Most states have adopted the latter.  It is also up to the consumer to minimize emissions.  Driving fewer miles and purchasing more fuel efficient cars can indeed save Americans a lot of money.  With the prices of gas expected to soar this summer, these options can be advocated for their advantages to both the consumer and the environment.

Fortunately, the government is doing something to regulate mobile sources of air pollution.  The EPA finalized a rule in February 2007 to reduce hazardous air pollutants from mobile sources by limiting the content of benzene in gasoline and reducing toxic emissions from passenger vehicles and gas cans (EPA, 2012).  Since mobile sources are responsible for the majority of benzene emissions, this is a step in the right direction.  According to EPA estimations, this rule would “reduce total emissions of mobile source air toxics by 330,000 tons and VOC emissions (precursors to ozone and PM2.5) by over 1 million tons” by 2030 (EPA, 2012).  This is a considerable improvement.  The EPA also regulates emissions from highway vehicles and nonroad equipment and controls emissions of hydrocarbons, particulate matter, and nitrogen oxides to significantly reduce toxic emissions (EPA, 2012).  In addition, the EPA is currently developing programs to provide further control of emissions from nonroad gasoline engines and diesel locomotive and marine engines (EPA, 2012).  To reduce the overall risks to communities, the EPA has developed several programs including Clean School Bus USA, the Voluntary Diesel Retrofit Program, and National Clean Diesel Campaign (EPA, 2012).

We have indeed come a long way in controlling mobile sources of air pollution.  As a more informed and environmentally conscious American population continues to emerge, I predict that it will become progressively easier to address the problems of air pollution in the future.  Continued regulation of the automobile manufacturing industry will also continue to modify and adapt its cars to be more fuel efficient and less toxic to the environment.  While I think that the use of electric cars by everyone is a long way off, it is an inevitable possibility we must all are prepare for.

References

Jervey, B. (2006). The Big Green Apple: Your guide to eco-friendly living in New York City. Globe Pequot Press. ISBN 0762738359.

Owen, D. (2004, October 18). Green Manhattan: Everywhere should be more like New York. The New Yorker. http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2004/10/18/041018fa_fact_owen

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2012). Mobile Source Air Toxics. Retrieved from http://www.epa.gov/oms/toxics.htm#epamsat

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