The American Lung Association today released their annual State of the Air report. In general, it says that the air is cleaner than it was a decade ago, thanks to the Clean Air Act. Despite this progress, over 131 million Americans live in areas where the air can often be too dangerous to breathe.
This year’s report showcases the levels of ozone and particle pollution from official monitoring sites in the United States from 2009-2011. Though it has the most current and complete data, it does not represent a full picture of every county in America because less than one-third even have air monitors. The report recommends that all counties get monitors for this reason. Still, this state-by-state map of each state’s air report card is a helpful tool to find out how clean the air is in a particular region.
Many places in the U.S. “made strong progress over 2008-2010, particularly in lower year-round levels of particle pollution.” This was largely due to reductions in coal power plant emissions and cleaner diesel fuels, and occurred as the economy started to improve.
The ALA report identified carbon pollution as a major source of dirty air:
Power plants are the largest stationary source of greenhouse gases in the United States. Energy production accounts for 86 percent of total 2009 greenhouse gas emissions, and the electric sector represents 39 percent of all energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. In 2012, the EPA proposed the first ever limits on carbon pollution from new power plants. Now the EPA needs to finish the job and issue strong final standards for carbon pollution from new and existing plants.
A coalition of groups representing over 150,000 American businesses and $9.5 trillion in collective assets signed a letter yesterday praising President Obama for his strong stance on climate policy in the State of the Union address.
In the letter, the business organizations Environmental Entrepreneurs, the American Sustainable Business Council, Ceres, and Green America Coming Together endorsed Obama’s new energy efficient and renewable power targets, as well as his commitment to “reduce carbon pollution, absent Congressional action, through existing federal authorities.” They also advocated for the executive branch to regulate carbon emissions from both new and existing power plants under the auspices of the Clean Air Act:
We understand the importance of certainty and clear market signals and believe national standards to reduce carbon pollution from new and existing power plants will clarify risks and opportunities for U.S. businesses, while also leading to technological innovation and investment in the domestic clean energy market… Ultimately, investing in cleaner technologies and more efficient resources can be a pathway to profit and prosperity, boosting economic growth and creating jobs while also providing competitive returns to investors.
We believe that the Clean Air Act currently presents the best option for reducing carbon pollution from power plants. We hope this Administration will quickly finalize the proposed Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants and, as required by the Clean Air Act, move forward to propose a carbon reduction program for existing power plants.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority and the obligation under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions should it determine they’re a danger to public health and the environment. The EPA reached that conclusion in 2009, and is already close to finalizing rules to regulate carbon pollution from new power plants. What’s lacking are rules for already existing power plants, but there are signs of movement in that direction.
In the State of the Union, Obama called for the United States to double the amount of renewable electricity it produces by 2020, and to double its energy efficiency by 2030. He also urged Congress to pass a market-style solution to climate change, such as the cap-and-trade bill put together by former Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) several years ago.
Obama did not explicitly call for extending the EPA’s reach to existing power plants in the speech, but he did bluntly state, “If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.”
I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.
The letter from the business groups comes on the heels of another letter from the Small Business Majority expressing similar support: “Our polling found 87 percent of small business owners believe improving innovation and energy efficiency are highly effective ways to increase prosperity for small businesses.”
According to a new study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, there is a small — but steady — link between local air pollution levels and lower infant birth weight.
While there is some speculation as to the exact nature of the link between air pollution and low infant birth weight, experts theorize that air pollution “can affect the attachment of the fetus to the placenta” and “stress the mother’s body, which could affect fetal growth.” And, as the study found, the more the air pollution, the lower birth weights tended to be:
The researchers found that for every 10-microgram increase of pollution particles per cubic meter of air, average birth weights decreased by 8.9 grams, roughly one-third of an ounce, and infants were 3 percent more likely to be a low birth weight. An infant is considered low birth weight if he or she weighs less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.
Low birth weight is a known risk factor for infant mortality as well as heart, breathing and behavior problems later in life.
Pollution levels at study sites ranged from approximately 10 to 70 micrograms per cubic meter of air. “These are definitely exposures that people would have in many places around the world,” said Tracey Woodruff, a reproductive health scientist in the division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center, who worked on the study. “This study increases our confidence that the impact of air pollution on birth weight is real.”
Air pollution has increasingly come under scrutiny as a major contributor to poor public health, particularly after shocking images of Beijing’s catastrophic air contamination levels became worldwide news. For the first time ever, air pollution is now considered a bigger killer than high cholesterol.
But the problem isn’t limited to China or other developing nations just now mastering the use of mechanical industry. In Utah — one of the five most polluted states in America — doctors have urged Gov. Gary Herbert (R) to declare a public health emergency over what they perceive to be dangerous levels of air pollution, regardless of the significant environmental advances made under the auspices of the Clean Air Act.
Dozens of doctors, as part of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, want lawmakers to take immediate action to address the state’s deadly air pollution problem. The group delivered a letter, signed by more than 60 doctors, requesting the governor declare a public health emergency over Utah’s poor air quality:
“[W]e know from thousands of medical studies that people are dying in our community right now because of the air pollution and its role in triggering strokes, heart attacks, congestive heart failure, fatal arrhythmias, lung diseases and infections and infant mortality.”
In the meantime, the doctors are advising people to avoid the outdoors — though that may be difficult with tourists attending the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
Air pollution has become a deadlier public health issue than high cholesterol. And winter pollution in Utah is a long-standing problem, particularly soot. Right now, Utah ranks among four of the five unhealthiest cities for air quality — although even the poor status quo represents steady progress, thanks to Clean Air Act protections. The Salt Lake Tribune writes, “Older Utahns can tell stories about the soot that their windshield wipers would push away during inversions of that era.”
By Climate Guest Blogger on Jan 23, 2013 at 11:05 am
President Nixon signs the 1969 National Environmental Protection Act
By Arpita Bhattacharyya, Center for American Progress
President Obama’s strong remarks on climate change yesterday left the environmental community hopeful that actions will soon follow his words. The Center for American Progress has laid out a blue print for how the President can move forward on climate change and energy, and most of those recommended actions can be taken now through executive orders, including setting carbon-pollution standards for existing power plants, oil refineries, and other major industrial sources under the federal Clean Air Act.
If President Obama takes these up, he will inevitably face push back from members of Congress who falsely claim that the economic costs are too high for crucial Environmental Protection Agency public health regulations. In reality, these regulations have saved thousands of lives and strengthened our economy. China’s extreme air pollution earlier this month serves as reminder of why we can’t let anti-public health rhetoric shake our resolve on crucial live saving regulations.
Air pollution levels in Beijing literally went off the charts earlier this month. On the normal scale of 1 to 500 for measuring small pollution particulates harmful for health known as PM2.5, the U.S. Embassy monitors in Beijing recorded 755 on January 12th. To put that in context, 50 or below is considered good air quality by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index. 301 to 500 is considered extremely hazardous and people are advised against going outdoors. The 755 rating surpassed the “crazy bad” pollution record set two years ago in China. The Chinese government responded by pulling government vehicles off the road and limiting activity at construction sites. Meanwhile, hospitals were full of patients with heart and respiratory ailments. China’s challenges with pollution serves as a reminder for Americans on how important Environmental Protection Agency regulations are for protecting public health.
While China’s air pollution problems may sound extreme and incomparable to air quality here in the U.S., we actually did face a very similar environmental situation during its industrialization. The reason? Tight regulatory standards for public health didn’t exist yet. In the 1940s and 1950s, smog had blanketed major cities while sewage and industrial waste infected U.S. rivers. In 1948, pollutants trapped over the industrial city of Donora, Pennsylvania killed twenty and permanently injured hundreds.
Slowly, the American Public became more aware of the effect of pollution on public health and demanded action.
By Climate Guest Blogger on May 13, 2012 at 10:23 am
by Dominique Browning
I’ve spent the last nine months giving birth to a new organization—really an act of incredible team gestation—called Moms Clean Air Force. Labor took place on my kitchen table—and before I start hyperventilating, I’ll leave off the birth metaphors. Let me just say this work has been some of the most exhilarating I’ve ever done.
I’ve been meeting moms from across the country. Moms—Republicans, Democrats, Independents and Apoliticals, at least until now—who are fed up with the status quo. Sick of dollars first, babies second. Moms in Alabama who don’t want to make a choice between jobs and their children’s health. Moms in Ohio who are alarmed by research linking behavioral issues to air pollution. Moms in Arizona making emergency room runs with asthmatic children. Moms in Pennsylvania outraged that the shale rush is fouling their skies. Moms in Michigan who want their teenagers to have job opportunities in clean energy—without having to leave their home state. Moms in New Hampshire who just want to eat tuna fish again. Moms in Dallas who are worried about that brown bubble of smog over their homes.
We are moms who don’t believe the science deniers. We deny that the situation is hopeless. We can do something about climate change. We respect science—and doctors—and we listen when they warn us of danger. We know exactly who is going to be around to suffer the impacts of extreme weather that will make today’s headlines about floods, droughts and heat waves look quaint. Our little ones. The loves of our lives. We know that the crazy stuff we are seeing today is just the beginning of global warming. And it is already bad enough.
Photo: Sean Suddes/Sierra Club
Is all this terrifying? Overwhelming? You bet. Moms today feel like they have to be EPA, FDA, and USDA rolled into one. But we know it is impossible to “shop” our way out of pollution problems. There isn’t an air filter on the market that can protect us. Money can buy the right to pollute. But money cannot buy clean air.
Being a good mom means being an engaged citizen. The only way to get strong regulations is to demand them. Moms hear “pollution regulations” and we think, Good: Protection. That’s why, Republicans and Democrats, we have rallied around Administrator Lisa Jackson—the mom of a severely asthmatic son. She has done a historic job of enhancing the Clean Air Act. Her work will have a long legacy. We’re grateful for her vision and courage.
Do politicians really want to make their mothers angry? Most of us aren’t marching in the streets or getting arrested—yet. But we’re signing petitions, writing letters, meeting with our political representatives, and letting them know: Listen to your mothers. We share the air. Stop polluting it.
Mother Love is the original renewable. The supply is endless. We hope Washington gets a charge out of it.
Sen. Carper And Alexander: Clean Air Is Not A Partisan Issue |
Both Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Tom Carper (D-DE) agreed that while the Clean Air Act has achieved significant accomplishments – returning $30 in benefits for every $1 that has been spent — clean air faces challenges ahead. At “The State of the Clean Air Act,” hosted by the World Resources Insitute, Alexander said, “Congress should act in a bipartisan way on clean air issues.” Carper said, “It is possible to have a clean environment and a strong economy.”
As U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administration Lisa Jackson announces the first-ever Clean Air Act rules to limit mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants, Republicans are already attacking this historic advance for public health. The health risks of this potent neurotoxin are enormously well-documented. Methylmercury from coal pollution accumulates in fish, poisoning pregnant women and small children. Mercury can harm children’s developing brains, including effects on memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills. But Republicans are willing to argue that the profits of the coal industry outweigh the well-being of America’s children.
“There are already strict regulations relating to mercury emissions,” Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), the chair of the House energy and power subcommittee, falsely claimed in an interview today with Fox News. “Obviously whatever controls the EPA has in place are not working if our fish are tainted,” Fox’s Alisyn Camerota shot back. Whitfield then made the false claim that “there is not going to be any benefit from this new regulation in reducing mercury levels”:
CAMEROTA: As I’m sure you know, for the past years doctors have been advising pregnant women not to eat any fish when they are pregnant because the mercury levels are so high in fish. So what to do about this? Obviously whatever controls the EPA has in place are not working if our fish are tainted.
WHITFIELD: Well, let me just say this to you, the scientists that testified before our committee were unanimous in the view that there is not going to be any benefit from this new regulation in reducing mercury levels. All of the benefits were calculated from the reduction of particulate matter, which is already covered under ambient air quality standard regulations. This is about closing coal plants, and that’s precisely what it is about.
Whitfield and energy committee chair Fred Upton (R-MI) have assiduously avoided having medical experts testify about the EPA’s mercury rules, instead parading utility and coal industry officials before their committee to make exaggerated claims about the costs of upgrading power plants to protect children’s health. At one such hearing, Rep. Joe Barton denied the “medical negative” of mercury exposure.
The glimmer of fact in Whitfield’s claims is that the health costs of mercury poisoning of our nation’s children over decades of unlimited coal pollution are difficult to quantify. Mercury poisoning is rarely fatal and hard to detect, but causes undeniable, insidious developmental harm to fetuses and babies.
Cost-benefit analyses conducted by epidemiologists for the new rule emphasize the equally real live-saving impact of cutting the deadly soot pollution from the few dozen ancient coal plants that emit most of the nation’s mercury pollution. By conceding that cutting the particulate matter would save thousands of lives, Whitfield was in effect admitting that current ambient air quality standards are not sufficient to protect American health either.
A presidential memorandum issued by President Obama this afternoon notes: “Analyses conducted by the EPA and the Department of Energy (DOE) indicate that the MATS Rule is not anticipated to compromise electric generating resource adequacy in any region of the country.”
Long-delayed rules to limit toxins like mercury and arsenic from coal-burning power plants will be approved today, after twenty years of delay that protected coal utility profits at the expense of American health. The Los Angeles Times reports that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will finalize its mercury rule today, marking the end of an era of deliberate pollution despite the scientific knowledge that pregnant women and small children were being poisoned:
The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to approve a tough new rule on Friday to limit emissions of mercury, arsenic and other toxins from the country’s power plants, according to people with knowledge of the new standard. Though mercury is a known neurotoxin profoundly harmful to children and pregnant women, the air toxins rule has been more than 20 years in the making, repeatedly stymied because of objections from coal-burning utilities about the cost of installing pollution control equipment.
In 1990 the bipartisan legislation that amended the Clean Air Act ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to set standards for the emission of mercury, arsenic, and other toxic air pollution from power plants. Although a court decree mandated EPA standards by 2000, the rules were repeatedly delayed again. In 2006, the Bush administration released rules that were thrown out by the courts for failing to protect the public health. The health risks of mercury and arsenic are enormously well-documented. In the 21 years since the EPA was ordered to issue these rules, 17 states have independently acted to limit mercury emissions from power plants. Coal-fired power plants alone produce 772 million pounds of airborne toxins every year—2.5 pounds’ worth for every American.
Of course, the primary economic benefit of the mercury rule comes from its life-saving impact. Methylmercury from coal pollution accumulates in fish, poisoning pregnant women and small children. Mercury can harm children’s developing brains, including effects on memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills. Upgrades to the aged and dirty coal plants will also significantly reduce harmful particle pollution, preventing hundreds of thousands of illnesses and up to 17,000 premature deaths each year. “The ‘monetized’ value of these and certain other health benefits would amount to $55–146 billion per year,” the Economic Policy Institute states.