As a doctor in Southern California specializing in pediatric asthma, I see the toll pollution from petroleum-based cars, trucks and buses takes on children’s health every day. Air pollution makes kids sick. They miss school, and their parents miss work, so air pollution can threaten a child’s health and educational development and a family’s financial stability. It can even kill.

Across our state, pollution from petroleum-based transportation is largely to blame for our air quality problems. In Southern California, nearly 90 percent of pollution in the region comes from mobile sources, inflicting significant costs. A recent report by the American Lung Association in California, “Clean Air Future,” found that every year, passenger vehicle emissions cost California residents $15 billion in health and climate expenses from smog, soot and climate pollution.

To bring it down to a personal level, consider this: the Lung Association study found that each 16-gallon tank of gas costs society about $18.42 in health and climate-impact costs – from hospitalizations and premature deaths, to crop losses and the increased costs of droughts and severe weather in a warming world. 

Moving to zero-emission vehicles running on renewable electricity dramatically reduces these costs.

California’s Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program is one of the nation’s most innovative strategies for cutting pollution by supporting the widespread adoption of cars and trucks that don’t pollute our air. Over the years, it will improve the health of all Californians, and save lives along the way. And by spurring clean transportation innovation and investment, it is advancing the day when driving cars, trucks and buses that don’t pollute our air will become commonplace.

As the California Air Resources Board (CARB) holds a review of the ZEV program in Riverside this Friday, it’s important to reflect on California’s success, largely due to ratcheting down vehicle and fuel emissions. While Southern California still faces some of the nation’s worst air pollution, we’ve seen a 34 percent drop in unhealthy ozone days since 2000 and a 90 percent drop in unhealthy particle days since 2004, according to the American Lung Association’s 2016 “State of the Air” report. Now we must go further and transition to zero emissions. As a pediatrician who cares for some of the 390,000 children in Southern California suffering from pediatric asthma, I look forward to seeing this program grow far beyond 2025, as clean transportation replaces dirty sources that put our children at risk.

Nine other states have adopted California’s ZEV program, so its benefits have a ripple effect across the nation. The recent Lung Association study found that across the 10 ZEV states, increasing the number of pollution-free vehicles on the road in accordance with the ZEV program’s goals and state targets could, by the year 2050, save $20 billion in annual health costs and avoid 2,236 premature deaths a year. All told, the pollution reduction and health benefits of this program help 91 million people living in the 10 ZEV states, well over a quarter of the nation’s population, while those living in neighboring states will also see health benefits from reduced pollution.

Supporting emission-free vehicles is a no-brainer. Kids who grow up in polluted areas suffer from stunted lung development – and this is irreversible as an adult. Lower-income communities tend to be located near freeways, so air pollution is an especially heavy burden on those families who can least afford to manage a chronic health problem. Air pollution is linked to cardiovascular disease and cancer, in addition to pulmonary problems. I want all my patients to live healthy lives and not be burdened by daily emergencies from air pollution.

Thankfully, the transformation is under way. Vehicles that get us where we need to go without polluting the air we breathe are increasingly available, affordable, practical and fun to drive. State and local officials need to keep their feet on the accelerator and use the ZEV program to keep driving progress to cleaner, healthier transportation.