GUEST COLUMN: Cleaner cars protect Colorado’s families

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Yellow buses on the roads, carpools driving their routes, and kids making their way to school. It’s that time of year again: classes are back in session.

To most students, the start of a new school year is a time of anticipation and excitement. But for children and families dealing with health issues, it can also be daunting.

Each day, my daughter Daniela struggles to cope with the coughing, wheezing, and chest pains brought on by her asthma. And with the uncertainty that it brings to her school life — never knowing when her next flare-up will occur, how severe it will be, or whether it will prevent her from participating in the activities she loves: reading, writing, and singing.

Last year, Daniela’s symptoms forced her to miss more than 115 days of school — time she had to spend checking in with doctors instead of learning, seeing friends, and taking part in extracurricular opportunities.

It’s hard to see Daniela face these struggles and to have a hospital as a second home. No child should have to worry about their ability to breathe, let alone grapple with the impacts it has on their life as a student, family member, and unique individual. Unfortunately, this is a likely reality if Colorado’s air quality doesn’t improve.

Colorado’s cities have some of the worst air quality in the nation. And unhealthy air days are becoming all too common. Tailpipe exhaust and rising temperatures are preventing Coloradans — especially sensitive populations — from going outdoors and leading healthy lives. And while the dangerous toxins in this pollution — including ozone, nitrous oxides, and volatile organic compounds — pose serious health risks to all people, to Daniela and the more than 500,000 Coloradans living with asthma, they could be deadly.

Thankfully, Colorado’s air quality experts recognize the importance of clean air to the wellbeing of our children, families, and communities. The Air Quality Control Commissioners recent adoption of a Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program is a big step toward cleaning up our air and improving public health. The program will get more zero-emitting vehicles onto Colorado’s roads by requiring automakers to offer an increasing number of electric vehicles in our state.

Because transportation is one of the largest contributors to climate change and air pollution, the ZEV program will help reduce hazardous air pollutants, protect our climate, and enhance our quality of life. And these benefits will only improve as our electric grid gets cleaner. Lifecycle analyses show that electric vehicles produce up to 85 percent fewer emissions than conventional gas vehicles when powered by renewables.

But these changes will take time — time that Daniela and nearly 2 million other Coloradans especially vulnerable to air pollution don’t have to waste. For them — our children and seniors — the costs of unhealthy air quality including more frequent doctor visits, growing hospital bills, missed school or work days, and less time spent doing the things they love, rise with each passing day.

As a mother, these costs are always on my mind. Every day I have to consider whether the air will be clean enough for Daniela to breathe or if my family should stay indoors.

My family’s health is being impacted by poor air quality. The health of thousands of families across Colorado is being impacted. This is why I welcome the Air Quality Control Commissioners taking action to reduce air pollution through a ZEV program and urge them to continue to craft solutions for clean air.

By continuing to enact policies like ZEV, our decision-makers can protect Colorado’s families and communities now and into the future. I thank them for taking the first steps to help Daniela and my family breathe easier. And I look forward to more policies that will build on this progress, ensuring that all families and communities disproportionately impacted by pollution benefit the most from them.

Dina Puente, mother and community advocate, lives in Montbello.