Eric Betterton, distinguished professor and head of the department of hydrology and atmospheric sciences at the University of Arizona, speaks during a press conference drawing attention to the proposed rollback in clean car standards at the new campus for Pima Medical Institute, 212 N. Craycroft, Tuesday, June 25, 2019, Tucson, Ariz. Also on hand were Tucson mayor Jonathan Rothschild, left, Pima County Board Supervisor Richard Elias and Dr. Barbara Warren, director of the Arizona Chapter of the Physicians for Social Responsibility.

A proposed rollback of the federal clean-car standards is a potentially “dangerous” decision that will adversely affect Pima County residents, two local leaders say.

Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and Pima County Supervisor Richard Elias spoke out against the proposal during a news conference Tuesday afternoon at the Pima Medical Institute’s new respiratory lab.

The pair denounced the decision, citing the major negative impacts it could have on the environment, citizens’ health and the economy. They were joined at the news conference by Barbara Warren, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility’s Arizona chapter, and Eric Betterton, head of the University of Arizona’s Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences.

The current standards were enacted during the Obama administration in 2012 to spur the creation of cleaner fuel and energy-efficient vehicles. In turn, it would reduce harmful emissions contributing to ozone in the battle against climate change.

Under President Trump, agencies have proposed freezing mileage targets at about 37 miles per gallon for cars after 2020. In addition to ending California’s unique authority to set its own tougher greenhouse-gas emissions standards, the plan would nullify the state mandate that automakers sell a certain number of electric vehicles, The Associated Press has reported.

Projections show the administration’s plan would increase daily gas consumption across the United States by about 500,000 barrels a day, worsening greenhouse-gas emissions and contributing to the rise in global temperatures, the AP reported.

The final version of the administration’s plan is expected to be released this summer.

Betterton said the proposed rollback could set back the state’s work to improve environmental conditions for residents.

“For the first time in my career I see a proposal that’s actually going to make air pollution worse. I can’t believe it that this is happening to us today,” Betterton said during the press conference. “The clean-car rollback would halt more than 50 years of progress on improving our air quality.”

Pima County is already awaiting possible action from the Environmental Protection Agency after violating air-quality standards for ozone in 2018. Ozone is created by a mixture of car exhaust, other emissions and sunlight. High ozone levels have been shown to cause health problems for some people.

Betterton said trying to get back into compliance without the set standards would be tough to do as the standards are already “quite tight.”

He added that federal officials could even withhold federal highway funds, which are frequently used in road-improvement projects within the county.

“We have a real opportunity now to stop the rollback of the clean-car standards and escalate our efforts to fight air pollution and address climate warming, both of which are major threats to our lives and health in Tucson,” Warren said.

According to the EPA, the transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States, generated from the burning of fossil fuels, 90 percent of which are petroleum-based.

“Our clean-car standards are currently the most effective policies we have to fight climate change,” Rothschild said.

“Furthermore, our clean-car standards protect human health, as vehicle exhaust has negative health consequences and, according to scientists, on virtually every organ in the body.”

Officials cited that the problems could affect the more than 17,400 children — and nearly 80,000 adults — in Pima County who, according to an American Lung Association report, have asthma.

“They will have a shorter life, they will have more problems living comfortably with the changes that are proposed by the EPA and ultimately the Trump administration,” said Elias.

In March, the EPA said the existing standards would save “an estimated $1.7 trillion for consumers and businesses and cut America’s oil consumption by 12 billion barrels, while reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 6 billion metric tons.”

There is also a worry that the rollback will cause U.S. vehicle manufacturers to fall behind while foreign manufacturers “continue to innovate to meet the demands of the future,” Rothschild said. He added that the cleaner initiatives have also created new jobs within Pima County.

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Rothschild added that the problem of fighting air pollution is something that leaders and researchers have been “cognizant” of, trying to work on increasing the use of renewables and combating issues regarding summer heat.

“You do all that work and you pick up inches, and something like this comes along and it sets you back a mile,” said Rothschild in regard to the proposal. “Remember, we’re not asking for anything new, we’re saying maintain the status quo. That helps us as a nation.”

The four speakers called on state leaders, and Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally, and U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, to speak out against the proposal.

“There are two things that every human on Earth needs: clean water and clean air. And clean air is the place to start,” Elias said.

Down the Road

Pima County begins project on Houghton Road: Construction crews have begun a shoulder project on South Houghton Road from south of Andrada Polytechnic High School to Andrada Road.

Crews will improve the safety of the road and preserve existing pavement, which includes providing a seal coat.

Motorists should use caution and watch for personnel in the area.

Road rehabilitation project to begin on Sabino Canyon Road: Construction crews will begin a month-long road rehabilitation project on North Sabino Canyon Road beginning July 8.

The project will fix the road from the Tucson city limits to East Cloud Road and should finish by early August.

Motorists should expect lane restrictions and reduced speed in the area.

Contact Star reporter Shaq Davis at 573-4218 or sdavis@tucson.com

On Twitter: @ShaqDavis1

Reporter

Shaq is a public safety reporter and the Road Runner columnist, keeping readers up to date on transportation news. In 2017, he started as an apprentice and later worked part-time until graduating from the UA and being offered a full-time position in 2018.