Cars: Not the polluters we thought

Editorial from the . Wisconsin State Journal
 Here's one statistic you will never see popping up in a Sierra Club press

 Personal vehicles -- that's cars, minivans, light trucks and even the
 oft-maligned sport utility vehicles -- produce 65 percent less pollution than
 they did 30 years ago. The startling reduction occurred even as the
 number of vehicle miles traveled has more than doubled.

 The information comes from an analysis of Environmental Protection
 Agency data that was commissioned by the American Autombile
 Association. The EPA data covered 25 major metropolitan areas in the
 United States, including Milwaukee.

 The study found that 65 to 80 percent of the most common air pollutants --
 volatile organic compounds like carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides --
 come from stationary sources like power plants and refineries and from
 big trucks and buses. Only about 24 percent comes from cars and other
 personal vehicles.

 That's down substantially from 1970, when cars and other personal
 vehicles accounted for up to 68 percent of organic compounds and 56
 percent of nitrogen compounds.

 In Milwaukee in 1970, cars produced 54 percent of organic compounds
 and 32 percent of nitrogen oxides. By this year, those numbers had fallen
 to 22 percent and 24 percent.

 The reason for the reduction is cleaner cars, cleaner gasoline, vastly
 improved gasoline mileage and better state inspection programs. It's
 worth noting that major automobile manufacturers might not have
 produced such vehicles without the Clean Air Act and its tailpipe emission

 The AAA survey, conducted by Energy & Environmental Analysis, did not
 include the Madison area. It's possible here that automobile pollution
 makes up a higher percentage than in the cities surveyed, because there
 are fewer pollution-producing industries. But it's still a lower percentage
 than it was 30 years ago, and AAA predicts it will be lower still in years to

 You can blame cars for traffic jams and parking lots and the money spent
 on new and improved roads. The Sierra Club blames them for everything
 from obesity to urban sprawl. But when it comes to air pollution, cars have
 a bad reputation they don't deserve.

Copyright 1999 Madison Newspapers, Inc.