Here are key actions the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Congress and other federal leaders must take to protect public health from air pollution and climate change:
Strengthen the National Ambient Air Quality Standards
Everyone deserves to breathe clean air, yet more than 4 in 10 Americans still live in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution, with people of color bearing a disproportionate burden. The Clean Air Act requires that the Administration update the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) based on the current science, which shows that the standards are currently too weak to protect health. Strong NAAQS set a floor that helps drive all other progress reducing emissions from polluting sources.
- Particle pollution (PM), or soot, can lodge deep in the lungs, causing respiratory and cardiovascular harm and premature death. It is particularly dangerous for children, seniors and people with lung and heart disease, and people of color and low-income communities are disproportionately exposed. EPA must finalize a standard of 8 micrograms/cubic meter (µg/m3) for the annual PM2.5 standard and 25 µg/m3 for the daily PM2.5 standard no later than Spring 2023.
- Ozone pollution, or smog, forms when pollution from combustion (tailpipes, power plants) interacts with sunlight. Ozone can lead to asthma attacks, impaired breathing, developmental and reproductive harm and premature death. EPA must strengthen the ozone standard to no higher than 60 parts per billion (ppb) and finalize the rule no later by the end of 2023.
Implement the Inflation Reduction Act
The Inflation Reduction Act includes critical investments in reducing air pollution, mitigating climate change and advancing environmental justice. EPA, IRS and other key agencies must quickly and equitably distribute the funds, ensuring they prioritize replacing polluting sources with zero-emission technologies and ensure investment in disproportionately impacted communities.
Reduce Transportation Pollution
The transportation sector is one of the largest contributors to air pollution in the U.S. A nationwide transition to electric vehicles and zero-emission electricity would yield $72 billion in health benefits by 2050 and prevent 6,300 premature deaths, 93,000 asthma attacks and 416,000 missed days of work.
- Zero-emission vehicles are necessary to achieving clean air for all. Strong greenhouse gas standards for light-duty vehicles will help further drive the transition to zero-emission vehicles. EPA must propose the next round of light-duty vehicle emissions standards by March 2023 and finalize them by the by December 2023.
- Heavy-duty vehicles are among the most polluting transportation sources, putting the health of anyone who commutes via bus, works in the trucking sector or lives along a commercial route or next to a shipping corridor at risk. EPA must propose to strengthen the Phase 3 greenhouse gas standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles to be more health protective by March 2023 and finalize a rule by December 2023.
- California’s ability to set stronger vehicle emission standards than the federal government, and other states’ ability to follow California’s standards, has driven nationwide progress in cleaning up dangerous pollution from vehicles. EPA must approve California’s waivers to implement its Advanced Clean Trucks.
Reduce Pollution from Stationary Sources
The nation can simultaneously address the climate crisis and decades of disproportionate air pollution burdens by cleaning up fossil fuel emissions, which provides immediate health benefits.
- Power plants not only drive climate change, they also contribute to poor local air quality. Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is required to protect health from air pollution, and that includes by setting strong pollution standards on power plants. EPA must propose a new plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector that doesn’t worsen local air quality.
- Mercury pollution from power plants can cause devastating health impacts, including permanent developmental challenges. The current Mercury and Air Toxics Standards have dramatically reduced these emissions, but there is still more cleanup to be done. EPA must finalize a new Residual Risk and Technology Review for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards by Spring 2023.
- Methane is a potent climate pollutant and is emitted from oil and gas operations alongside volatile organic compounds, which can cause cancers and developmental disorders. EPA must finalize strong methane standards for new and existing oil and gas operations by Spring 2023.
Equip States for Preparedness and Mitigation
State, local, and tribal health agencies across the country are already dealing with the health impacts of climate change and need support.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Climate and Health program provides funding for states to conduct research and act on the health-related climate impacts their residents are facing. Congress should appropriate robust investments in this program with the ultimate goal of fully funding it at $110 million in FY24.
- The Office of Climate Change and Health Equity is a small office with a mighty task in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health and Health and Human Services: ensuring the department has the knowledge to prepare for and respond to health impacts of climate change. Congress should appropriate dedicated funding to the Office in FY24.
Elevate Climate & Health in Congress
Any legislative efforts to reduce emissions and protect the environment must prioritize health benefits, particularly those who bear a disproportionate burden of the country’s air pollution.
- For over 50 years, the Clean Air Act has driven dramatic improvements in air quality across the country. The Clean Air Act remains the best tool we have to ensure healthy for all. Congress must commit to preserving the Clean Air Act, including the authority granted to the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases.
- People rely on the Environmental Protection Agency to keep their families safe from toxins and pollution, but the resources provided to EPA do not reflect the need for the work they do. As a public health agency, EPA is hampered in its ability to protect health due to consistent underfunding. Congress should appropriate adequate funding for EPA in FY24 to carry out its duties to protect health from pollution.
Protect and Improve Indoor Air Quality
Americans spend an estimated 90% of time indoors where they are exposed to concentrations of harmful pollutants two to five times higher than typical outdoor concentrations. While there are many things an individual can do to improve air quality within their own space, the government has a responsibility – and authority – to safeguard human health in the indoor environment.
- Current public housing regulations allow fossil fuel-fired appliances like gas stoves and furnaces that emit harmful pollutants. This disproportionately affects low-income residents who may lack the financial resources to manage impacts of exposure. The Department of Housing and Urban Development must promulgate new and revised rules to support building electrification and improve residential health in public housing and other government-assisted programs.
- Buildings account for a large percentage of CO2 emissions, many of which come directly from appliances. The Department of Energy (DOE) has the authority to establish and amend minimum energy efficiency standards for more than 60 categories of appliances and equipment but has failed to keep up with both statutory deadlines and existing technology. DOE must strengthen efficiency standards for consumer and commercial appliances, particularly gas-powered appliances such as stoves, furnaces and clothes dryers. It must also continuously evaluate and amend test methods to ensure that requirements are representative of use in the real world.
- Gas stoves, which are used by more than one-third of U.S. households, emit harmful levels of several pollutants, putting health at risk. While proper ventilation can reduce this indoor pollution, many homes are not equipped with exhaust hoods, others have hoods that do not provide proper ventilation, and many people who do have hoods do not use them. The Consumer Product Safety Commission must finalize the voluntary standards on gas stoves and ovens and require a warning label on all newly sold appliances warning consumers about the risk of health harm when using these appliances.
Page last updated: January 4, 2023