A gallon of gas costs, on average, about $2.23. But the health and societal costs associated with burning that gallon of fuel add another $1.30 or so. That's according to the American Lung Association in California, which just finished a broad study of the environmental costs of the cars we drive.

Getting all of California to shift to zero-emissions vehicles would save the state about $7.5 billion a year in health and societal costs, including about $3.8 billion in health costs, $1.5 billion in climate-related damage savings, and about $2.3 billion in energy-security cost savings, the American Lung Association wrote in its "The Road to Clean Air" report. As part of those savings, more than 400 premature deaths would be avoided, as would about 29,000 missed work days and more than 9,000 missed school days. All that adds up.

Factor in the nine other states that have adopted California's zero-emissions vehicle standards, and the numbers get more impressive – or daunting, depending on how you look at it. Light-duty vehicle emissions spur annual societal costs for the 10 ZEV states of $37 billion, pegging the real-world cost for a full tank of gas at about $30. More tellingly, such emissions cause almost 2,600 premature deaths a year within those 10 states.

The American Lung Association is releasing its study about 18 months ahead of when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) will make their decision on if or how to tweak the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) mandate. Currently, CAFE standards call for US fleetwide fuel economy to reach a real-world level of about 40 miles per gallon by 2025, which is up about 50 percent from the current average.

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