As a local Subaru dealer who works with one of the greenest brands in the nation, our air quality has become a major concern. The good news, however, is that new federal standards that could help dramatically improve our community's air are being supported by a surprising alliance of car manufacturers and public health groups.
Last winter, Wasatch Front residents struggled through 22 days of dangerously polluted air. Polluted air worsens breathing problems, shortens lives and especially jeopardizes the health of pregnant women and young children. There were days when it was dangerous to even leave the house.
Gov. Gary Herbert and state air quality officials blame our winter air pollution on cars and trucks. They say vehicle emissions produce 57 percent of the pollutants that cause our winter inversion episodes.
As one who works with thousands of Utah residents to buy cars each year, this statistic is disconcerting. While we're proud of Subaru's efforts to make some of the cleanest cars available and to establish green standards in our dealerships, we want to do more.
That's why I am in full support of the new safeguards that promise to make huge strides in cleaning up Utah's air. The new standards announced by the Environmental Protection Agency would dramatically reduce emissions from passenger cars and trucks.
First, they require advanced pollution-control technologies in new vehicles. Second, they require refineries to lower the sulfur in gasoline. These dual safeguards, to begin taking effect in 2017, are synergistic: Cleaner gas allows the car's pollution system to work more efficiently. Together, the new rules will achieve startling improvements: an 80 percent reduction in nitrogen oxides pollution and a 70 percent reduction in particulate emissions.
Those pollutants are big contributors to Utah's winter inversions. It's worth noting that it's not just Utah that will benefit: Nationwide, over 158 million Americans are experiencing unhealthy levels of air pollution.
Subaru has a version of all its popular models which already meets these new standards. Bringing them nationwide to all new cars would literally help us all breathe easier!
What will these improvements cost? The EPA says the lower sulfur gas will cost under one cent per gallon – a penny! – while the new pollution controls will add about $130 to the cost of a new vehicle.
These costs are not insignificant for many, but these investments directly reduce health care costs. The EPA says their total price tag is $3 billion, but they will prevent as many as 2,400 premature deaths and save $8 billion to $23 billion a year. That's an investment my family, and many other Utah families, are willing to make to protect our health and environment.
Now, big industry usually opposes federal standards. In fact, big refineries have already announced they'll try to kill these new standards.
But I'm proud to say that carmakers have taken a bold step by joining the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association to support the new safeguards. The auto industry understands that we have to be part of the solution, helping Americans drive the cleanest possible cars burning the cleanest possible gas.
Still, without bipartisan support, these new standards may not actually be put into play. We hope that Gov. Gary Herbert and other Utah leaders will join us in supporting these new clean car standards. Let's work together to improve Utah's air and protect Utah's families.
Jeff Miller is general manager and part owner of Mark Miller Subaru South Towne and Mark Miller Subaru Midtown. He hosts "Utah Car Cents" Saturday mornings on 1280 AM and 97.5 FM.