Yesterday, the American Lung Association released its annual air quality report, State of the Air 2011, identifying the United State’s most unhealthy cities by year-round and short term particle pollution and ozone. While this year’s findings show overall improvement in air quality across the country, vast steps are still required to ensure the health and safety of the American people in the future. CAP’s Emily Bischof has the story.
There is reason to celebrate the success of EPA regulations and the Clean Air Act, established by a bipartisan congress in 1970. According to the newly released report, nearly all 25 cities listed as the most polluted by ozone, and short/long-term particle pollution showed some improvement.
Nevertheless, despite encouraging improvements in air quality, the fight for clean air is far from over. The American Lung Association has also found that over half of Americans still reside in counties that that have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution and 1 in 17 Americans live in places with dangerous levels of ozone, short term, and long term particle pollution. The health implications from these conditions range from increased asthma attacks and respiratory infection, to increased risk of cancer and stroke.
Yet not all Americans are hit in the same way. Those most at risk from the negative health impacts include children, senior citizens and people already suffering from asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema and cardiovascular disease as well as our nation’s poorest citizens. Almost 37 million children under the age of 18, and 20 million people living at or below federal poverty level live in places with unhealthy levels of ozone.
The EPA is currently working to create new rules that will continue to curb these dangerous pollutants. Once established, the recently proposed Air Toxics Rule would “lead to exponential health benefits, including the prevention of 11,000 heart attacks and 17,000 premature deaths per year.” Clean Air Act protections already in place saved over 160,000 lives in 2010 alone. Our nation’s productivity and success relies upon a healthy and viable work force. Further, the health benefits created by EPA standards not only improve the quality of life for all Americans but also foster a robust and competitive economy.
While everyone can celebrate the success of cleaner air and healthier people, there are some that will deny credit where credit is due. In an article written by Steve Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute, pollution reduction detailed in recent studies is touted as a huge success, yet not once does he mention the EPA cap-and-trade programs that were responsible for the air quality improvements. Likewise, Conservatives continue to introduce bills that would effectively cut the funding and power that enable the EPA to establish and enforce these life saving regulations.
American’s of different ethnic backgrounds, faiths and political ideology are raising their collective voices in support of EPA regulations. According to an American Lung Association poll, 69 % of voters think the Clean Air Act standards should provide stricter limits on air pollution. The American people have recognized the value of a healthy environment yet their conservative representatives in congress would rather ally themselves with the very companies responsible for poisoning American air.
The American consensus has it right. Let us celebrate the small victory of cleaner air and move forward by allowing the EPA to continue protecting the health of American citizens with pollution regulations that have proven to effectively curb dangerous emissions. If Congress were to pass bills that would eliminate the EPA’s ability to regulate harmful air pollutants, we would soon see these moderate improvements in air quality disappear.
— By Emily Bischof, CAP energy intern.