Air pollution might not get a lot of airtime these days, but it is making your brain age faster, destroying white matter like a neurotoxin, might be a cause of anxiety, is bad for your heart and lungs and causes cancer (especially bad for the lungs of children), and it's now the biggest environmental health risk, killing more people around the world than AIDS and malaria combined.
I think the case is clear: We need cleaner air.
Transportation is a big source of air pollution in Canada (as well as the source of about 25% of the greenhouse gas emissions). If everybody just walks and bikes everywhere, that would solve the problem, but that's not likely to happen overnight (especially in rural areas), so cleaning up vehicles is very important. The end point of the process is electric vehicles powered by electricity from clean sources, but until we get there, there's still a lot that can be done to reduce smog-forming emissions.
Tightening regulations is particularly important since 25% of cars are causing 90% of the air pollution that we breathe and the air pollution from cars and trucks could be spreading 3x farther than previously thought. By raising the bar (and hopefully enforcing it), we can make a big difference as the vehicle fleet rolls over.
The U.S. has already passed new emission standards, and Canada is piggy-backing on them, phasing the new tier 3 rules starting with the 2017 model year. They will affect new passenger cars, light-duty trucks and certain heavy-duty vehicles (such as delivery vans).
Once fully phased-in, the Tier 3 standards for emissions of smog-forming air pollutants from new vehicles will be up to 80% more stringent than the current Tier 2 standards. To help with that, new rules for gasoline will also mandate a lower sulfur content (down 70% starting in 2017). This is good because sulfur can mess with advanced emission control equipment. By 2030, the new standards are expected to help reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide by 43%, carbon monoxide by 22%, volatile organic compounds by 15%, NOx by 13%, and fine particulate matter by 8%.
But how much will this cost? That's the wrong question. How much will we gain is the better thing to ask:
By 2030, it is estimated that the Tier 3 vehicle and fuel standards will result in cumulative health and environmental benefits of $7.5 billion and cumulative fuel and vehicle related costs of $2.7 billion. Accordingly, the projected benefits would exceed the projected costs by a ratio of almost 3:1.
The projected health benefits from the Tier 3 vehicle and fuel standards are significant. Between 2017 and 2030, it is estimated that reductions in air pollutants from vehicles will prevent about 1,400 premature deaths, nearly 200,000 days of asthma symptoms and 2.8 million days of acute respiratory problems in Canada.
Of course similar benefits will also apply to the U.S., where the new rules originated, but at larger scale.