While we have seen tremendous improvements in air quality over the years due to the public health success of the Clean Air Act, poor air quality still threatens the health of more than half of all Americans, especially those with asthma and other lung diseases.
According to this year's "State of the Air" report, the American Lung Association found that more than 166 million of us live in areas where ozone or particle pollution levels make the air unhealthy to breathe, placing Americans at risk for asthma attacks, heart attacks and stroke, developmental and reproductive harm, cancer and even premature death. This year's report also provides evidence that a changing climate threatens to make it harder to protect human health from the dangers of air pollution.
The "2016 State of the Air" report found several cities experienced more days when levels of particle pollution dangerously spiked due to the effects of climate change. This is particularly serious for our health, as these particles (often called soot) are so tiny that when inhaled, they can lodge deep in the lungs and trigger asthma attacks, or penetrate into the blood stream where they can cause heart attacks and strokes. Wildfires driven by drought contribute to the smoky air that causes short-term spikes in particle pollution, even in "downwind" cities hundreds of miles away. And with climate change, scientists tell us the frequency and severity of droughts and wildfires will likely worsen.
Our changing climate affects ozone pollution, too. This report found that most cities improved their ozone levels, some to their lowest levels ever. While this is excellent progress, urgent action is still needed on ozone pollution, particularly because scientists tell us that climate change will make ground-level ozone more difficult to clean up. Heat and stagnant air, which are exacerbated by climate change, make ground-level ozone more likely to form in the air we breathe.
The good news is that taking steps to reduce carbon pollution from power plants and methane emissions from the oil and gas sector also means substantial reductions in emissions that form ozone and particle pollution. This action is especially important for our children, older adults and those living with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other lung diseases.
The Clean Air Act remains one of the most important public health safeguards in the nation. The Clean Air Act not only provides a solid basis for reducing air pollution, but through the Clean Power Plan will specifically reduce carbon pollution and fight climate change—a win-win for public health. Despite its benefits, the Clean Power Plan has been delayed; and some in Congress have recently tried to roll back the life-saving protections of the Clean Air Act. We cannot allow that to happen.
The implementation of the U.S. EPA's Clean Power Plan remains critical in our nation's battle against climate change. Similarly, EPA must move forward with strong limits on methane pollution from new and existing oil and gas facilities. Scientists tell us that climate change poses serious threats to public health, and that carbon pollution and methane emissions are major contributors to the problem. Unless carbon pollution and methane emissions are curbed, global climate change will continue to drive warmer temperatures and ozone formation in large parts of the United States, as well as increasing the drought and wildfires that contribute to particle pollution.
The American Lung Association calls on Governors across the nation to prioritize the health of Americans in their states by moving forward to reduce carbon pollution from power plants as outlined in the Clean Power Plan. We urge the U.S. EPA to set strong limits on methane pollution from both new and existing oil and gas facilities. And we encourage Congress to allow the Clean Air Act to do its job to promote healthy air for all.