By Elizabeth Hamlin
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has a tremendous opportunity to help us all breathe easier, endure fewer asthma attacks and avoid a host of illnesses brought on by air pollution.
The governor can, at the same time, clean up our dirty and outdated transportation system, create good-paying jobs and more vital communities, and curb climate change. This all requires one simple step for New York to help lead a multistate partnership already underway to fix our beleaguered transportation system and protect public health.
Under what is known as the Transportation and Climate Initiative, New York, 11 other states and Washington, D.C., are developing a regional policy to slash transportation pollution, make our air healthier, and invest in cleaner, faster and more reliable public transportation.
The governor should lead this effort and commit to implementing a strong policy that protects New Yorkers’ health and extends our state’s climate and transportation leadership across the region.
There is good cause for New York to be at the forefront of this initiative: Nearly 2 million New Yorkers are living with asthma, including 370,000 children, and hundreds of thousands of residents are at greater risk due to diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses worsened by air pollution.
Another reality: Climate change is increasing temperatures, triggering extreme weather and contaminating our air. Pollution from transportation, mainly carbon emissions from tailpipes, is one of the biggest contributors to climate change.
Like many Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states, New York’s aging transportation system is at the heart of the problem, dumping more than 80 million tons of dangerous carbon emissions – more than any other sector – into the atmosphere every year.
New York should take a leading role in helping the region make this critical transition away from fossil-fueled transportation toward zero-emission vehicle technologies and alternatives to automobile dependence. The approach being considered by the TCI states is a “cap-and-invest” program, similar to a Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states regional policy that is already cutting pollution in the power sector, boosting state investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency, lowering utility bills, and creating jobs in the region.
The combination of effective pollution reduction policies, and the investment opportunities made possible through TCI, offers real opportunities to scale up New York’s leadership on health, climate and equity for our most overburdened communities across the region and beyond.
Elizabeth Hamlin is director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in New York State.