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LISTEN: How Transportation Emissions Make Us Sicker

Robin Lubbock
Heavy early afternoon traffic on I-93 South in Boston.

Transportation is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, according to federal data. Those emissions have harmful impacts on health and the environment, and it's a problem we contribute to when we drive, fly, take public transportation or buy food that was carted across the country. 

In an attempt to tackle the issue, a group of Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states is expected to sign an agreement as part of the Transportation and Climate Initiative, or TCI, that would reduce carbon emission from transportation. Participating states are expected to sign on by the end of the year. 

Under the TCI plan, gas and diesel distributors would pay a fee for each ton of carbon emitted. The revenue would go toward cleaner transportation. The initiative is controversial — gas prices could go up and not all New England states are expected to sign on.

But the health benefits have been spelled out in a recent study from the Transportation, Equity, Climate and Health Project, or TRECH, which looked at how air pollution can contribute to asthma, heart disease, pre-term births and other health challenges, particularly in communities of color.  TRECH looked at different levels of reduction in emissions and measured how many lives and dollars could be saved. They found that a 25 percent reduction in CO2 emissions from transportation – the most amitious TCI scenario – could save 1,100 lives and $11.1 million.

"The most useful thing that states could do with our study is look at how to invest funds to get the greatest possible impact out of a program," Kathy Fallon Lambert told NEXT. She's a senior advisor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a member of the team analyzing the potential health impacts of TCI.

This story was featured in NEXT, a weekly show from the New England News Collaborative. Listen to the entire show here.