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Houston Must Have Clean Transportation by 2040 to Address a Looming Public Health Crisis

Oct. 18, 2018

Houston Must Have Clean Transportation by 2040 to Address a Looming Public Health Crisis

Clean Combustion Technologies, Emissions Controls and Fleet Electrification Could Cut Harmful Emissions by 90 Percent

HOUSTON – Failing to implement any new emissions control strategies in Houston would lead to an additional 122 deaths in the year 2040, according to a report (PDF) released today by Public Citizen and the University of Houston.

The report examines the future of transportation-related air pollution in the Houston region. It demonstrates the significant air quality and public health benefits of cleaning up emissions from the transportation sector.

Public Citizen and the Healthy Port Communities Coalition commissioned the study by the University of Houston to predict various impacts to public health based on the future of transportation in Houston. The Houston population is predicted to grow 50 percent by 2040, and on-road vehicle traffic could see increases from 30 percent to 80 percent by the same year. The study’s Business-As-Usual model incorporates the additional emissions this growth would bring if clean transportation methods are not fully adopted.

Already, Houston does not meet federal standards for ozone pollution. With a growing population and a growing freight industry, pollution will worsen and health problems will grow if nothing more is done. Data in the report demonstrate the lifesaving impact of cleaning up transportation-related emissions through improved combustion technologies, tailpipe emissions controls and fleet electrification.

The report, titled “Evaluation of the air quality impacts of clean combustion technologies, emissions controls and fleet electrification in the Houston Metropolitan Area for the year 2040” is available for download here (PDF). The metro area includes the eight-county region of Harris, Chambers, Liberty, Montgomery, Waller, Fort Bend, Brazoria and Galveston counties.

Researchers found that:

  • If all on-road vehicles in the metro area implemented clean combustion technology or were electrified by 2040, emissions would be reduced by more than 90 percent from 2013 levels. This would include reductions in nitrogen oxide (NOx), one of the precursor compounds to ozone, as well as particulate matter, which creates serious health impacts and increases the likelihood of premature mortality. Other compounds that would be reduced include cancer-causing benzene and formaldehyde, as well as carbon dioxide, which is a major contributor to global warming.
  • If every vehicle on the road was electrified or implemented clean combustion technology, Houstonians would see about $152 million in benefits from prevented mortality from reduced exposure to ozone and $1.99 billion in benefits from prevented mortality from reduced exposure to fine particulate matter. This scenario also would put students back in the classroom by reducing the number of missed school days by 18,000 days. In addition, Houston area residents would suffer 24,652 fewer cases of asthma per year. “Emissions reductions due to vehicle electrification would prevent a significant amount of early deaths,” said Dr. Shuai Pan, one of the authors of the report. “The results from our study coincide with the health studies in other metropolitan areas, such as New York City.”

The Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) is a program that the state has put in place to retrofit and replace old, dirty diesel trucks. TERP’s success at reducing ozone is limited because annual appropriations are merely a fraction of the $1.7 billion in the program.

“We don’t have to wait until any longer to begin cleaning up our transportation emissions,” said Stephanie Thomas, Ph.D., the Houston-based organizer and researcher for Public Citizen. “Let’s get trucking now toward cleaner air by getting the oldest and dirtiest heavy-duty vehicles off our roads. Programs like the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) can help achieve that. Our legislators need to fully fund TERP and create policies to protect our health.”