Smog Originating from Truck Emissions Poses a Particular Health
Threat to Low-Income Communities and Communities of Color
NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today partnered with Connecticut Attorney General William Tong and Acting New Jersey Attorney General Andrew Bruck in pressing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to move swiftly to tighten controls on air pollution emitted by heavy-duty trucks. In a letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan and National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy, the attorneys general urged the EPA to act quickly to propose stronger standards for emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from new on-road heavy-duty trucks and engines for model year 2027 and beyond.
“The health of millions of New Yorkers — particularly our children, elderly, and most vulnerable — is routinely threatened by smog pollution,” said Attorney General James. “We know that heavy-duty trucks are one of the largest sources of pollution that cause New York’s serious smog problem, and that pollution has the greatest impact on low-income and communities of color. The EPA needs to protect the health of all New Yorkers by putting the brakes on smog-forming pollution from heavy-duty trucks.”
On the worst air quality days, nearly 12.5 million New Yorkers — almost two-thirds of the state’s population — breathe air with unhealthy levels of smog. Heavy-duty trucks are the nation’s largest mobile-source contributor of NOx, a potent precursor to ground-level ozone, or “smog,” emitting roughly 20-times more NOx than gasoline-fueled cars on a per-vehicle basis. Elevated levels of smog can disproportionately affect the health of the most vulnerable, including children and the elderly, and causes an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and respiratory illnesses, such as asthma and COVID-19, and premature death. According to the American Lung Association’s 2021 State of the Air report, millions of New Yorkers with lung disease — including 380,000 children and over 1,600,000 adults suffering from asthma — are at special risk to the harmful effects of smog. People who live, work, or go to school near high-traffic roadways — which tend to be in low-income communities and communities of color — experience higher rates of these health impacts. The letter submitted today emphasizes that a “significant and rapid” cut in NOx emissions from heavy-duty trucks is urgently needed to protect the public health and well-being of all residents, but especially the most vulnerable communities.
The EPA has long recognized the serious public health and environmental harms caused by NOx emissions. NOx combines in the atmosphere with volatile organic compounds in the presence of heat and sunlight to form smog. As climate change causes warmer temperatures, smog formation will only worsen. Smog disproportionately affects the health of the most vulnerable, including children and the elderly, and causes an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and respiratory illnesses, such as asthma and COVID-19, and premature death. People who live, work, or go to school near high-traffic roadways — which tend to be in low-income communities and communities of color — experience higher rates of these health impacts.
Even though New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey have implemented some of the most stringent control programs for NOx in the nation, the New York City metropolitan area failed to meet national air quality standards for smog by the July 2021 deadline. As a result, the EPA will soon reclassify the region from “serious” nonattainment with smog standards to “severe” nonattainment. The states’ on-going smog problem is, in a substantial way, driven by the pollution emissions of on-road heavy-duty trucks, as these vehicles emit 20 percent of the total NOx pollution in the tri-state region. In their letter, the attorneys general note that a sizeable proportion of this NOx is out of their control due to out-of-state trucks operating in their states or truck pollution that blows in from upwind states. Without strong action from the EPA to curb NOx emissions from out-of-state heavy-duty vehicles that New York and the other states lack the authority to regulate, the attorneys general argue that the states will continue to struggle to meet smog standards and protect the health of their residents.
This letter continues Attorney General James’ long-standing fight against smog pollution. In July 2021, she led a coalition of five states and the City of New York in reaching an agreement with the EPA that, if approved by the court, will commit the federal government to addressing pollution that blows into New York and creates smog. Under the agreement, the EPA must take final action on “good neighbor” plans from six states to limit downwind spread of smog-forming emissions. The agreement would resolve a lawsuit that Attorney General James and the coalition brought against the Trump Administration’s EPA in January 2021 over its failure to fulfill its legal responsibility under the Clean Air Act to take action to ensure the control of upwind sources of smog-forming pollution.
This matter is being handled for Attorney General James by Assistant Attorney General Gavin G. McCabe, Affirmative Litigation Chief Yueh-Ru Chu, and Special Attorney General Ashley Gregor of the Environmental Protection Bureau, which is led by Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic. The Environmental Protection Bureau is a part of the Division for Social Justice, which is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux and overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.