Why California Cars Matter for the Chesapeake

By revoking California's right to set tighter standards for vehicle emissions, the Trump administration threatens to reverse progress on cutting the air pollution that harms local rivers, streams, and the Bay.

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The Trump administration made yet another move this week that hinders efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. This time, the attack comes by air.

The administration announced Wednesday that California will no longer have the right to set its own standards for limiting harmful air emissions from cars and trucks. That might seem like a distant problem, but it hits home hard.

Thirteen other states and the District of Columbia also follow California's Clean Car standards, which set stricter limits on emissions of pollutants like nitrogen oxides and the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. Four of those states—Delaware, Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania—are in the Bay's watershed

Striking down California's standards will also allow cars and trucks in these Bay jurisdictions to release more pollution into the air. The result is a steeper climb to reach Bay restoration goals and clean up local rivers and streams.

Roughly one-third of the nitrogen pollution in the Bay comes from the air, much of it in the form of nitrogen oxides released from power plants and vehicle exhaust. The airborne nitrogen can fall directly into the water or wash from the land into nearby streams. Pollution from cars is especially damaging to local rivers and streams because it does not travel as far as pollution from power plants, which is emitted higher in the atmosphere via tall smokestacks.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency recognized the critical importance of limiting air pollution to clean up the Bay, and the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint includes a specific goal to curb air emissions. The problem is, to meet the goal by 2025, the agency is relying on many of the same clean air laws and regulations that the Trump administration is currently trying to weaken or repeal—including efforts to limit emissions from cars and trucks.

When the federal government fails to curb air pollution, it places a heavier burden on the Bay states to make up the slack by making steeper cuts to nitrogen pollution from cities and agricultural lands. That's not to mention the serious health risk air pollution poses, a problem that disproportionately affects the Bay's minority communities. 

We've made great progress to cut pollution to the Bay thanks to increasingly protective clean air laws. Since 1985, the amount of nitrogen falling into the water from air pollution declined 40 percent. It is foolhardy to put a brake on policies that are working, especially when we know a growing population will put more cars on our roads down the line.

Thankfully, 22 states, the District of Columbia, and the cities of Los Angeles and New York filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration's latest move, citing the fundamental role California's standards play in protecting public health and the environment.

As they should, nearly all the Bay jurisdictions joined the charge; the plaintiffs include Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. At CBF, we will continue to work at all levels to uphold strong air protections—for the Bay, and for all of us who live here.

Lisa Feldt, CBF Vice President of Environmental Protection and Restoration; Jon Mueller, CBF Vice President of Litigation

Issues in this Post

Air Pollution   Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint   Federal Regulations   CBF in Maryland   CBF in Virginia   Eastern Shore Office   Federal Affairs Office   Maryland Office, Annapolis   Pennsylvania Office   Virginia Office, Richmond  




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