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GUEST OPINION: EPA Sides With Big Oil Against Our Lungs

New Jersey Sierra Club

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it will allow companies to sell winter-grade gasoline through May 20. Normally, companies must stop selling it by May 1 to protect air quality. Winter-grade gasoline is more volatile than summer-grade, which means that it evaporates into the atmosphere in the 6a00d8341bf7d953ef0240a48894b1200c-320wisummer heat, causing smog. 


“The EPA is using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to side with Big Oil against our lungs. They are letting oil companies sell winter-grade gasoline for an extra month this year, or even longer, which will mean more ground-level ozone. What’s worse is that oil companies make more money because they don’t have to transfer over to summer-grade. The EPA is helping Big Oil and worsening air pollution at a time when we are facing a public health emergency for a respiratory illness. New Jersey already has some of the worst air quality in the nation,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This will mean we will see even more cases of asthma and heart disease as the temperature gets warmer and we are still using winter-grade gasoline. This is especially concerning because this will make more people susceptible to the coronavirus.”


The EPA’s waiver applies to fuel refiners and distribution systems from May 1 to May 20. Studies have shown that the fine particle pollution from truck emissions in New Jersey may cause more premature deaths than homicides and car accidents combined. A US EPA report shows that fine particle pollution is known to cause or exacerbate a variety of lung and heart ailments.


“According to the American Lung Association, there are 10 counties in New Jersey that have failing grades for ground-level ozone. Using winter-grade gasoline for an extra month will mean even more ground-level ozone and more smog. In New Jersey, 45 percent of air pollution comes from trucks and buses. It’s even worse in our congested urban areas where people are sucking in the fumes and choking on them. It’s like sunburn of the lungs, and it leads to more trips to the emergency room and more risk for people with heart problems and asthma,” said Tittel. “This will make air pollution worse as at-risk people are trying to keep themselves quarantined and healthy during the coronavirus outbreak.”


According to the American Lung Association report, 10 counties in the state received a grade of “F” for their air quality. No other county received a grade higher than C.  Climate change creates higher ozone levels, leading to worsened air quality and increased health effects.


“Air pollution can cause asthma attacks and put people with heart problems, lung problems or children at risk. Using winter-grade gasoline will make our air quality even worse. Asthma attacks from ozone kill 100 kids a year in New Jersey. Ozone not only has significant health impacts, but it is an irritant that can cause asthma attacks in at-risk people. It is also linked to premature death through heart attacks and respiratory problems. If at-risk people are infected with the coronavirus, the impacts of air pollution can be deadly,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The EPA is using the coronavirus outbreak as an excuse to sell out our lungs and to suspend enforcement of many environmental laws. New Jersey needs to stand up and fight back so that we can start to breathe easier.”