Clean Car Standards–A Better Ride Toward a Brighter Future
By T. Wyatt Watkins

I am an American Baptist pastor and past chair of Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light, an interfaith
response to the climate crisis. I am also the father of four adult children whom, with my spouse, I
spent years transporting to school and extra curriculars around the streets of Indianapolis. We did
this with a series of poor-mileage minivans aptly described as bellybutton vehicles—everybody
had one.

Over a decade ago we purchased our first used Prius, prompted by a realization that the
transportation sector is the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and a driving cause
of climate change—no pun intended. We were happy to cart our kids to children’s choir and
cross-country practice but not by driving their future off a cliff. Back then, Priuses were a rarity
on city streets. I still recall the stares and gawks as well as genuine curiosity over this stealthy
newcomer to Indy’s morning commute. But I was focused on the great gas mileage and light
carbon footprint. Now hybrids big and small crowd the streets we drive, while our Prius long ago
gained bellybutton status.

These are hopeful signs, but they are far from sufficient. The globe fast approaches a climate
tipping point, Indiana along with the rest of America is experiencing extreme weather
devastation, and it has become clear that market forces alone will not deliver the day.

For these reasons, I am advocating for the adoption of clean car standards as a matter of faith,
moral principle and common sense. In particular, President Biden’s EPA under Administrator
Michael Regan must:

  • Restore national standards and revise them beyond levels set during the Obama-Biden
  • Establish a 2030 standard for cars and light-duty trucks that achieves fleet average
    greenhouse gas emissions 60 percent or more below today’s average;
  • Put the nation on a trajectory to make all new cars and light-duty trucks zero-emission
    vehicles no later than 2035 and;
  • Ensure all new trucks and buses are zero-emission no later than 2040.

I have signed a letter to this effect along with hundreds of faith leaders around the nation, many
Hoosiers included, not only for the health of the planet and the sake of future generations but
also as a matter of equity and justice in our moment. While I was privileged to purchase an
energy-efficient vehicle by choice, this is not the case for low-wealth as well as Black, Brown
and Indigenous individuals, living disproportionately in communities harmed by dirty vehicle
pollution and plagued by high asthma rates and other respiratory illnesses. These communities
also often reside near congested highways and so bear the greatest burden from vehicle pollution.

Clean car standards will not correct all these ills, but they are a necessary pivot to a cleaner,
healthier and more equitable future. They will reduce vehicle pollution, drive innovative
technologies and spur economic growth. Setting higher standards will lead to greater choice, not
less, by increasing demand for and access to high efficiency and electric vehicles. The legislation
we need to meet these standards must be robust. It must meet this critical moment in America’s
rich history of overcoming barriers through innovation, as well as humanity’s story of survival
and flourishing on this finite planet—the only home we’ve got.

At over 200,000 miles our vintage Prius is still going strong. But when eventually it dies, we’ll
be thrilled to purchase a used electric vehicle. If America acts now on this legislation, then
undoubtedly our kids’ generation will buy electric as well. For them it won’t even be a question,
for the action we took in 2021 and beyond. And the Earth and all its children will thrive in
greater fairness, health and peace.

T. Wyatt Watkins
Pastor, Cumberland FBC, Indianapolis
Past Chair, Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light