As we all reflect on what we are grateful for this Thanksgiving, the American Lung Association recognizes and thanks Leon G. Billings, whose tireless work for clean air helped to advance our mission to save lives, prevent lung disease and promote lung health. Last week, Mr. Billings passed away at age 78, and America lost one of its unsung heroes.
Mr. Billings was a primary author of the 1970 Clean Air Act, one of the most influential environmental laws in U.S. history and a foundation for current air pollution laws. He also played a key role in the 1972 Clean Water Act, the primary federal law governing water pollution. His legacy lives on, including through the lifesaving legacy of the Clean Air Act.
Mr. Billings had a 50-year career in politics and public policy and also taught politics and courses on the Clean Air Act and other laws. He is cited as "an architect of the new order" by former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator William Reilly, who called out his "great work” for its benefits to public health.
Just one small glimpse of the impact of Mr. Billings' critical work is demonstrated by the most recent estimate of the impact of the Clean Air Act from 2010, which shows that this law prevented 160,000 premature deaths in 2010 alone.
Beyond the direct lifesaving power of the 1970 Clean Air Act, this law provides the underpinning for most air pollution policy in the United States. In fact, the monumental success of this law provides an example for countries around the world.
Mr. Billings' lifetime of dedication to ensuring that every American was able to breathe clean air provides a clear example that one individual can have a profound influence, and we are all grateful for his work. One of his important legacies to us is his son, Paul G. Billings, our Senior Vice President for Advocacy and a long-time leader in the Lung Association's fight for healthy air.
The American Lung Association's Healthy Air Campaign works to defend many of the vital public health protections that Mr. Billings worked on, namely the Clean Air Act. As political threats continue to these life-saving protections, it is more important than ever that we honor Mr. Billings' legacy and fight for clean, healthy air for all Americans.