Oregon’s mountains, forests, rivers, coastline and lush urban parks paint a picture of healthy living. Surrounded by beauty, it’s easy to overlook an often-invisible problem like air pollution — unless it affects your ability to breathe. Hundreds of thousands of Oregonians are affected by asthma, COPD, heart disease and other conditions that make them vulnerable to unhealthy air.  

Nurses and physicians often are the first to see the effects of air pollution. They treat people of all ages who suffer from respiratory problems: children in the ER with asthma attacks, adults struggling to breathe due to COPD, and the wide range of health issues experienced by those living nearest freeways, ports and other diesel hot spots. Beyond contributing to these health emergencies, air pollution can contribute to early deaths — an estimated 358 each year in Oregon. 

Among other sources, air pollution comes from the tailpipes of our cars and trucks. Ideally, alternative commuting options like walking, biking or mass transit will continue to increase. For miles that must be driven, the cleanest possible fuel should be used. This March, Senate Bill 324 cleared the Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Kate Brown. The law implements the state’s 2009 Clean Fuels Program under which fuel companies will reduce the carbon pollution from the fuels they sell by 10 percent in 10 years.

As a result of this change, pollution emitted by burning a gallon of gasoline or diesel will be reduced through a healthier mix of fuels like electricity, hydrogen or advanced biofuels. This law already has sent businesses a clear signal that Oregon is serious about reducing carbon pollution and fostering an industry of clean fuel innovation. In fact, when SeQuential Pacific Biodiesel of Eugene announced it was adding capacity this month, the company cited Oregon’s new law as the reason for its optimism. 

But now, opponents of the law are pressuring legislators and the governor to water down or dismantle the standard before it can take effect. This is a tired tactic of those constantly opposing action for cleaner air. Lawmakers who voted against clean fuels are holding transportation funding hostage, attempting to force a choice between cleaner air and funding for transportation projects. Oregon deserves and needs both. 

While the Clean Fuels Standard proposal is modest in scope, it will have an important impact on communities that are disproportionately impacted by polluted air. Low-income housing is often unfairly placed near pollution sources, contributing to the fact that adults making less than $15,000 a year have an asthma rate nearly twice as high as those earning $50,000 a year.

Reducing carbon pollution through a clean fuel standard also will reduce smog-forming pollutants. Soot and cancer-causing chemicals like benzene, emitted by gasoline and diesel fuels, can trigger asthma, heart attacks and other health emergencies. Reducing our carbon footprint from transportation is critical to slow the impacts of global warming, such as drought, wildfires and heat waves that threaten our air and the health of our lungs. 

Oregonians deserve to breathe a little easier. Let’s protect our clean-air future and make sure that politics doesn’t get in the way of making progress.

Beverly Stewart is vice president of Health Initiatives for the American Lung Association of the Mountain Pacific. She lives in Lake Oswego with her husband and two children. Contact her at: [email protected]

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