Electrifying every vehicle on Houston-area roads and powering them with renewable sources would avoid 3,000 premature deaths and reap billions in health benefits, a new analysis by the American Lung Association has concluded.
Released late Tuesday, the report, Zeroing in on Healthy Air, advocates for more aggressive movement toward zero-emission vehicles, especially heavy trucks, public transit and delivery vans.
Researchers based their estimates on all passenger vehicles sold by 2035, and all medium- and heavy-duty trucks sold by 2040, being zero emission, as well as all electricity generated by renewable means. They also factored for reductions, but not a total elimination of petrochemical refining.
All of those changes “would save lives, prevent asthma attacks and realize over $1 trillion in public health benefits,” said Harold Wimmer, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, during a briefing on the findings.
Minority communities, often located near freeways, industrial plants, warehouses and ports that draw heavy truck traffic, would stand to benefit greatly from the shift, researchers said.
Researchers estimate a total shift to zero emission vehicles would have the following health outcomes in Texas over 30 years.
$104 billion in total health savings, via avoided medical bills and improved quality of life
9,230 avoided premature deaths
346,000 fewer asthma attacks
1.5 million avoided days off from work
Source: American Lung Association
“We believe everyone, regardless of their zip code, deserve to breathe clean air,” Wimmer said.
In Houston the benefits would be enormous, researchers said, ranging from 130,000 fewer asthma attacks to avoiding 568,000 sick days from work. In both cases, only the Los Angeles and New York metro areas would have larger drops.
When comparing the economic value and avoided premature deaths, however, Houston falls to eighth, with an estimated health benefit of $33.4 billion from 2020 to 2050, researchers found.
Among the 25 metro areas analyzed, Dallas ranked 10th and San Antonio 25th.
Texas and California would reap more than $100 billion in health benefits from zero emission vehicles, according to the report.
The listed benefits, however, rely on ambitious goals, at a time when adoption of some new technologies is sluggish.
“I don’t think it is addressing the realistic nature of where we are in this energy transition because we are not going to get there in the time frame described,” said Ramanan Krishnamoorti, an engineering professor and chief energy officer at the University of Houston.
Krishnamoorti said even if all vehicles sold are zero-emission by 2035, only about half the cars and trucks on the road will be, as the median lifespan for passenger cars is 15 years. By 2037, half the new cars sold today still will be on the road.
Heavy-duty trucks, meanwhile, are even further behind, and operators hold onto them longer — 28 years on average. He said many manufacturers still are debating whether electricity or hydrogen is the likely long-haul engine power of the future.
“They are simply still contemplating what they can try,” Krishnamoorti said of truck-makers.
That uncertainty and other factors leave many studies — both for and against adoption of electric vehicles — skewed, he said.
“I think anyone who paints a black or white picture is creating a false picture of what is going on, or will go on,” Krishnamoorti said.
Local benefits could be complicated by the Gulf Coast region’s economic role in energy production, which employs thousands. Business leaders and elected officials have said the area must strike a balance between encouraging major changes in power generation and fuel consumption while maintaining job growth and transitioning workers to clean fuel jobs. That has led some, such as Gov. Greg Abbott, to attack aggressive federal regulation as harmful.
“The energy industry in Texas is the lifeblood of our economy and it has made our state the economic powerhouse that it is today,” Abbott told the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association in a speech Tuesday. “The Lone Star State will not sit idly by as the federal government continues to attack energy jobs, raise energy costs, and destroy the quality of life for all Americans.”
Advocates, however, argue public health should take precedence over the pocketbook when it comes to pollution and its effects. There is clear evidence vehicle emissions cause respiratory problems, particularly in children, which if eliminated have a direct positive effect on their ability to be outdoors and healthy, said Dr. Afif El-Hasan, a Caliifornia pediatrician and national spokesperson for the lung association..
“That should not be up for debate, ever,” El-Hasan said.