The "State of the Air" 2021 report, released in April 2021, found that despite some nationwide progress on cleaning up air pollution, more than 40% of Americans—over 135 million people—were living in places with unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution. It also found that people of color were over three times more likely to be breathing the most polluted air than white people.

Last year’s report highlighted the following actions the federal government should take to clean up air pollution and promote health equity. With “State of the Air” 2022 coming out on April 21 this week, we thought it would be a good time to reflect back on some of the key policy recommendations in “State of the Air” 2021 and see what progress has been made.

Recommended Action for President Biden: Ensure Investments in Climate Action Benefit Underserved Communities

Status: In Progress. Some action has been taken, but this issue is so systemic that the nation has a lot more work to do. The Biden Administration is working on a Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool and publishing interactive maps highlighting disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution. Federal agencies will use the tool to meet President Biden’s order that 40 percent of federal investments in climate, clean energy and energy efficiency, clean transit, affordable and sustainable housing, training and workforce development, clean water infrastructure, and the remediation of legacy pollution benefit disadvantaged communities.

Recommendation for EPA: Set Stronger National Limits on Ozone and Particle Pollution

Status: In Progress. In October 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced they would reconsider the inadequate ozone standards set by the previous administration. This was a welcome announcement, and the Lung Association praised the move. Further, in March 2022, EPA proposed a new rule that would cut emissions from power plants and industrial sources that contribute to ozone problems in downwind states. Next, EPA must propose and finalize by the end of 2023 a strong new ozone standard that better protects health.

We are closer to seeing updated standards on particle pollution. EPA is also reconsidering these limits, and the timeline is further along than on ozone. EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee recommended stronger limits for both daily and year-round particle pollution levels, which is good news. We expect EPA to propose updated standards in summer 2022 and finalize by spring 2023.

Recommendation for EPA: Limit Methane from New and Existing Oil and Gas Sources

Status: In Progress. In November 2021, EPA released a proposed rule to cut methane and other harmful pollutants from new and existing oil and gas operations. The Lung Association thanked EPA for this proposal and urged them to strengthen it. It would reduce climate-fueling methane pollution AND the many other toxic pollutants emitted alongside methane from oil and gas operations. EPA plans to issue a second, related proposal later this year and then finalize the standards into law.

Recommendation for EPA: Set a Strong, Long-Term Plan to Reduce Vehicle Emissions

Status: Some Steps Completed, Others in Progress. The Biden Administration has taken an array of actions in the past year to help reduce vehicle emissions:

Recommended Action for Congress: Pass COVID Recovery Legislation that Builds Healthier Communities

Status: Stalled. In November 2021, Congress passed and President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law. The bill includes $2.5 billion in investments to support the purchase of electric school buses, which was a good step forward. But to adequately address air pollution and climate change, Congress must pass additional legislation that invests in zero-emission vehicles and electricity. We celebrated when the House voted to pass the Build Back Better Act later in November, which contained several big wins for clean air, but the legislation has stalled in the Senate, and legislators are now trying to find a path forward. We are urging Congress to pass this critical bill.

We’ll have new recommendations for action at the federal, state, tribal and local in our new “State of the Air” 2022 report coming out on April 21, which you’ll find then at Lung.org/sota. In the meantime, help today by raising your voice in support of zero-emission vehicles and electricity.

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