What Needs To Be Done

Our nation has made significant strides in cleaning up our air, as the progress in the 18 years of this report has shown. Stopping or retreating cannot be an option. Our nation's historic, legal commitment to protect the health of millions of Americans requires more work to reduce the burden of air pollution. Cleaning up air pollution requires a strong and coordinated effort on the part of our federal and state leaders. The President, the EPA administrator, members of Congress, governors and state leaders all have a key role to play. These leaders must support steps to improve the air we breathe so that it does not cause or worsen lung disease. The American Lung Associationurges our nation's leaders to stand up for public health and take these important steps to improve the air we all breathe.

Protect the Clean Air Act

Our nation's continued air quality improvement shown in the "State of the Air 2017" report is possible only because of the Clean Air Act, a strong public health law put in place by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress more than 45 years ago. Congress wrote the Clean Air Act to set up science-based, technology-fostering steps to protect public health by reducing pollution. Under the Clean Air Act, Congress directed that the EPA and each state take steps to clean up the air. As the "State of the Air 2017" report documents, those steps have reduced ozone and particle pollution in much of the nation.

Unfortunately, some in Congress seek changes to the Clean Air Act that would dismantle key provisions of the law and threaten progress made over nearly five decades. To protect the lives and health of millions of Americans, Congress must protect the Clean Air Act – making certain it remains strong, fully implemented and enforced.

Fight Climate Change by Reducing Carbon Pollution from Power Plants

Power plants comprise the largest stationary source of carbon pollution in the United States. The electric sector contributed 30 percent of all energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2014. Scientists tell us that carbon pollution contributes to a warming climate, enhancing conditions for ozone formation and making it harder to reduce this lethal pollutant. Climate change also leads to particle pollution from increased droughts and wildfires. Taking steps to reduce carbon pollution from electricity generation will also reduce ozone and particle pollution from these plants at the same time. EPA's analysis shows that these co-benefits can prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths and up to 90,000 asthma attacks in children in 2030. The American Lung Association calls on governors to direct their states to develop strong plans to reduce carbon pollution from power plants and protect public health.

In 2015, EPA adopted the Clean Power Plan, a flexible, practical toolkit for the states to reduce carbon pollution from power plants approximately 32 percent (below 2005 levels) by 2030. States can choose a variety of ways to cut carbon pollution with the Clean Power Plan. They can choose to require cleaner fuels for existing utilities, improve energy efficiency, produce more clean energy and partner with other states to jointly reduce carbon pollution. In February 2015, the Supreme Court issued a stay on the plan, putting EPA's enforcement of the plan on a temporary hold while the courts hear the case.

Even before the lower court released its decision on the Clean Power Plan, President Trump issued an Executive Order directing EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to roll back the plan. However, the Lung Association and others will continue to fight to secure reductions in carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and other sources.

Retain the Clean Vehicle Emissions Standards

Transportation produces more than one-quarter of the nation's greenhouse gases that worsen climate change. In 2012, EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced new standards for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from cars, SUVs and light-duty trucks in model years 2017-2025. The emissions standards would reduce 2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the lifetime of the vehicles and would improve fuel efficiency. EPA committed to doing an interim review after the initial phase was in place to see if the longer-term standards for 2012-2025 should still be in place. In January 2017, EPA announced that it had completed its mid-term review and that these emissions standards were appropriate and achievable by the automobile industry for model years 2022-2025. However, in March 2017, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced the reconsideration of the final determination and reopened EPA's review.

The Lung Association opposed the decision to reopen the review, as EPA had taken an extensive, in-depth examination with public comments before reaching their conclusion. Based on the evidence EPA found before, the Lung Association expects EPA to conclude, again, that the targets should remain in place.

Reduce Emissions from Existing and New Oil and Gas Operations

Oil and gas production wells, processing plants, transmission pipelines and storage units have long emitted harmful gases including methane, volatile organic compounds and other pollutants. As noted earlier, this report found high levels of unhealthy ozone in places where oil and gas production has expanded in the last few years. In May 2016, EPA adopted health-protective standards to reduce harmful emissions of these gases from new and modified sources within the oil and natural gas industry.

However, that action did not affect emissions from the existing oil and gas infrastructure. In November 2016, EPA requested essential information from the oil and gas industry about the location and size of their facilities. Gathering this information is a required step for EPA to eventually limit harmful emissions from these existing sources. The industry objected and, unfortunately, in March 2017, the EPA withdrew its request to the updated information on their facilities, with the explanation that the administrator needed to review the request. The Lung Association calls on the administrator to move forward and set strong pollution control standards for existing oil and gas operations.

These standards would not only help to mitigate climate change and its associated health risks by curtailing emissions of methane–an especially potent greenhouse gas–but would also limit emissions of major precursors to ozone, as well as other toxic and carcinogenic air pollutants, benefiting public health in communities across the country.

Improve the Air Pollution Monitoring Network

The grades in this report come from information from the nationwide air pollution-monitoring network. That network forms the infrastructure for healthy air. States and local governments use monitors to accurately measure the amount of air pollution in the community.

Less than one-third of all counties have ozone or particle pollution monitors, seriously limiting the ability to adequately detect and track the levels of harmful air pollution. Unfortunately, funds for existing air pollution monitors have been cut across the nation. More monitoring is needed near roadways to measure the highest levels of exposures from air pollution related to traffic. Communities that have expanded oil and gas extraction operations need more monitoring.

The President has proposed to cut EPA's budget by 31 percent, including dramatic cuts for state air pollution grants that fund monitoring. With such challenges to our monitoring infrastructure, it may be harder for the nation to ensure accurate, reliable quality data in the future.

What You Can Do

You can do a great deal to help reduce air pollution outdoors. Here’s how to speak up and step up:

Speak up for Healthy Air Protections

  • Send a message to Congress and to the White House: Protect the Clean Air Act! Urge the President and Congress to support cleaner, healthier air and oppose measures to block or delay the cleanup of air pollution. The President and all members of Congress should support and protect the Clean Air Act.
  • Tell Congress to support adequate funds for the EPA to implement and enforce the Clean Air Act. EPA works with the states to make sure that the pollution is cleaned up, but they need the resources to do that work.
  • Tell EPA to follow the law to protect your health. EPA is required to follow the Clean Air Act, completing regular reviews of the science and putting in place steps to clean up sources of pollution to provide that protection. That includes taking steps to reduce pollution that causes climate change. You can provide comments to EPA at public hearings or in writing online. Sign up for more information about times when your voice is needed at www.FightingForAir.org.
  • Share your story. Do you or any member of your family have a personal reason to fight for healthier, cleaner air? Go to www.FightingForAir.org to let us know how healthy air affects you. Your story helps us remind decision makers what is at stake when it comes to clean air.
  • Congress must make certain that the Clean Air Act remains strong, fully implemented and enforced.

  • Get involved locally. Participate in state and local efforts to clean up air pollution and address climate change. To find your local air pollution control agency, go to www.4cleanair.org.

Step up to Curb Pollution in Your Community.

  • Drive less. Combine trips, walk, bike, carpool or vanpool, and use buses, subways or other alternatives to driving. Vehicle emissions are a major source of air pollution. Support community plans that provide ways to get around that don't require a car, such as more sidewalks, bike trails and transit systems.
  • Use less electricity. Turn out the lights and use energy-efficient appliances. Generating electricity is one of the biggest sources of pollution, particularly in the eastern United States.
  • Don't burn wood or trash. Burning firewood and trash is among the largest sources of particle pollution in many parts of the country. If you must use a fireplace or stove for heat, convert your woodstove to natural gas, which has far fewer polluting emissions. Compost and recycle as much as possible and dispose of other waste properly; don't burn it. Support efforts in your community to ban outdoor burning of construction and yard wastes. Avoid the use of outdoor hydronic heaters, also called outdoor wood boilers, which are frequently much more polluting than woodstoves.
  • Make sure your local school system requires clean school buses. Using clean school buses includes replacing or retrofitting old school buses with filters and other equipment to reduce emissions. Make sure your local schools don't idle their buses, a step that can immediately reduce emissions.
    • Sources
      1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2013. Washington, DC: U.S. EPA, 2015. EPA 430-R-14-003.

Did You Know?

  1. More than 5 out of 10 people live where the air they breathe earned an F in State of the Air 2016.
  2. Nearly 166 million people live in counties that received an F for either ozone or particle pollution in State of the Air 2016.
  3. Nearly 20 million people live in counties that got an F for all three air pollution measures in State of the Air 2016.
  4. Breathing ozone irritates the lungs, resulting in something like a bad sunburn within the lungs.
  5. Breathing in particle pollution can increase the risk of lung cancer, according to the World Health Organization.
  6. Particle pollution can also cause early death and heart attacks, strokes and emergency room visits for people with asthma, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
  7. Particles are smaller than 1/30th the diameter of a human hair. When you inhale them, they are small enough to get past the body's natural defenses.
  8. Ozone and particle pollution are both linked to increased risk of lower birth weight in newborns.
  9. Do you live near, or work on or near a busy highway? Pollution from the traffic may put you at greater risk of harm.
  10. People who work or exercise outside face increased risk from the effects of air pollution.
  11. Millions of people are especially vulnerable to the effects of air pollution, including infants, older adults and people with lung diseases like asthma.
  12. People of color and those earning lower incomes are often disproportionately affected by air pollution which put them at higher risk for illnesses.
  13. Air pollution is a serious health threat. It can trigger asthma attacks, harm lung development in children, and can even be deadly.
  14. You can protect your family by checking the air quality forecasts in your community and avoiding exercising or working outdoors when the unhealthy air is expected.
  15. Big polluters and some members of Congress are trying to change the Clean Air Act and dismantle 45 years' of progress. The Lung Association is fighting to keep the law strong to continue to protect public health.
  16. Cutting air pollution through the Clean Air Act will prevent at least 230,000 deaths and save $2 trillion annually by 2020.
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