New Delhi: An Environmental Flashback
Smog clouded, car-choked and noisy as hell. These are some of the things I witnessed when I visited New Delhi, an expansive metropolis in India that best exemplifies the negative consequences of massive economic growth in the developing world a few weeks ago.
With the confirmation of former Attorney General of Oklahoma Scott Pruitt to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, it is important to remind Americans that most of our cities were also this way until environmental regulations were put in place.
For those who worry about air quality, Pruitt is far from our savior. As attorney general, he repeatedly sued the EPA and brands himself as a fighter against the “EPA’s activist agenda.” While some of the Obama’s administration’s existing EPA rules, such as the Clean Power Plan and the Clean Water Rule, could be considered a stretch of the Clean Air Act , Pruitt has already sued the EPA for thoroughly enumerated provisions such as the Mercury and Air Toxics standards, which seek to remove mainly mercury and arsenic from the air.
America’s smog problem started during the industrial revolution and culminated in what became known as the 1966 New York City smog event, which killed an estimated 170 – 206 people in a three-day period. On Nov. 26, 1966, the front page of the New York Times read in bold letters, “SMOKE HERE NEARS THE DANGER POINT.” Smog was so bad that the city’s index reached 10 points higher than the legal safe limit, according to city records.
What followed was a host of local laws and the landmark 1970 Clean Air Act, which passed in Congress without a single nay vote.
According to the Air Quality Index, New Delhi is consistently as bad or even worse. During Diwali, a festival filled with fireworks, particulate matter can reach about 14 to 16 times the safe threshold. From personal experience, I can say this event caused watery eyes, coughing and massive breakouts of acne. A new report by the State of Global Air found that 1.1 million people die each year in India of air pollution alone.
The U.S has provisions to help prevent this sort of health danger. Forty seven years later and despite the Clean Air Act saving 160,000 lives just last year, its protections are in danger of being rolled back.
Part of the reason for Pruitt’s vitriol against environmental regulations has been revealed by a batch of emails obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy. In these emails, Pruitt shows frequent interactions with utilities, fossil fuel producers, and lobbyists. Essentially, Pruitt will now be regulating the same industries that he frequently communicated and took money from as attorney general.
Smog standards don’t actually help mitigate the current threat to our environment climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions. According to a new study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, air pollution caused 200,000 premature deaths in the U.S last year. Electricity generation and tailpipe emissions caused 105,000 of these, highlighting the need to bring current standards in line with new technological advancements, such as coal power plant “scrubbers” and efficient fuel blends. Republicans in Congress and Pruitt are working against the prevailing opinion of voters across the political spectrum by seeking to roll back these protections. The American Lung Association found widespread support (69 percent of respondents) for making air quality standards STRICTER. A similar amount of people thought updated standards should include greenhouse gas (CO2) reduction measures.
The initial cost of environmentalism is often too high for developing countries and struggling cities around America, but towns like Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Mountain View have an additional responsibility to fight against climate change and poor air quality. To be fair, Palo Alto is off to a great start. The city plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and its utility is already 100 percent carbon neutral.
As smog clouds the Delhi streets, Americans should be aware of what a city without “business killing environmental regulation” actually looks like – growing uncontrollably at the expense of longtime residents of the city. We cannot go back.