Nashville Vehicle Air Pollution Worst In Nation
Cities in the Southeast are first in the nation for air pollution from vehicles, according to a report released today by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG).
The most polluted city is Nashville, Tennessee, followed closely by Atlanta, Georgia, and then Greensboro and Raleigh, North Carolina. Fifth most polluted is Indianapolis, Indiana. All top the list of large cities with the most air pollution per capita from cars and trucks.
Los Angeles, which led the nation in polluted air for decades, did not even make the U.S. PIRG list of the 20 cities with the most polluted air.
The report, “More Highways, More Pollution,” analyzes Federal Highway Administration and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data on highway capacity and vehicle emissions for 314 metropolitan areas in 1999, the most recent year for which complete data are available.
The report concludes that building new roads will do little to alleviate traffic congestion in the long run and likely will worsen already severe air pollution problems in cities across the country.
Cities with the most highways tend to have the worst air pollution from cars and trucks, according to the report. Nashville, which is first in the nation for air pollution from vehicles, ranks second for the most highway capacity and third for the most miles driven, per capita, among large cities. In 2003, Nashville received an “F” grade from the American Lung Association for its air quality.
“Roads and air pollution go hand-in-hand,” said U.S. PIRG Clean Air Advocate Emily Figdor, “and air pollution is linked to asthma attacks, lung cancer, heart disease, and early deaths.”
U.S. PIRG released the report at this time in hopes of influencing Congress, where a multi-billion dollar transportation bill is working its way through the legislative process.
In February, the Senate passed a six year, $318 billion bill (S. 1702) to reauthorize federal surface transportation programs. The bill increases federal funding for highways by 40 percent and weakens existing clean air protections – specifically transportation conformity.
Among other things, the bill would allow large highway projects to be built without first considering their long term air pollution impacts, which would result in more air pollution from sprawl and poorly planned growth, U.S. PIRG warns. The House is scheduled to consider its transportation bill within the next few weeks.
“A powerful highway lobby is driving Congress towards weakening clean air protections, which will leave the public breathing dirtier air for a longer time,” said Figdor.
The highway lobby – car companies, oil companies, developers, and others with a financial stake in road building – poured more than $41 million into the campaign coffers of federal candidates in the most recent six year fundraising cycle and spent more than $124 million lobbying Congress in 2001 and 2002, Figdor observes.
“The House should stand up to the highway lobby and reject any transportation bill that weakens clean air protections for America’s children and seniors,” concluded Figdor.
Half of all Americans live in areas with unhealthy levels of ozone smog. Air pollution contributes to asthma attacks, lung cancer, heart disease, and tens of thousands of premature deaths each year.
While vehicles coming off today’s assembly lines are 80 to 99 percent cleaner per mile than those of the 1960s, cars and trucks remain a leading source of air pollution because of the dramatic increase in driving, U.S. PIRG says.
From 1970 to 2002, the number of vehicle-miles traveled in urban areas tripled from 570 billion to 1.73 trillion miles. In Nashville, people drive a total of 23,300 miles every day, or 35 miles per resident per day.